The Memorial Day holiday marks the start of the summer for many students. While summer usually means lower stress levels without the pressures of school and extracurriculars, it can be the perfect time to focus on mental health. Here are five ways to support kids’ and teens’ mental health this time of year:
- Make a plan.
Discuss your family’s summer plans (vacations, summer camps, daily/weekly activities) ahead of time. Mark events on a calendar that is visible to all family members so that everyone is aware of all the fun things that summer will bring. Set up a daily plan and schedule to maintain clear expectations and structure. Be sure that kids and teens know their responsibilities (e.g., daily chores) and rewards (e.g., time with friends, a trip to the community pool) to keep the household running smoothly and with fewer arguments.
- Enjoy down time.
While scheduled trips and activities are wonderful for kids and teens, they also need time to relax and recharge while they aren’t in school. Enjoy relaxing activities as a family (e.g., take a walk, sit around a campfire) and encourage kids and teens to find their own activities (e.g., read a book, paint with watercolors) too. Savor every moment of summer by using the five senses (sight, taste, sound, touch, and smell) to maximize the relaxation. For example, encourage kids to think about each of the five senses while stargazing on a calm summer evening: look for the brightest stars, taste the s’mores, hear the sounds of laughter, touch the cool grass, and smell the campfire. Mindful relaxation allows the experience to be fully appreciated.
- Set limits.
Most kids and teens want lots of screen time once school is out. However, setting clear and reasonable screen time limits is one of the best ways to improve the mental health of both kids and teens. Consider which websites, apps, and games are most enjoyable and which help connect kids and teens to their friends and family members. Make a plan for recreational screen time use that everyone in the family can follow. Talk with kids and teens about how a reduction in screen time can allow for more of the activities that everyone in the family can enjoy – like family dinners, exploring new parks, and playing board games.
- Encourage bravery.
Even though summer brings fewer fears and stressors than the school year, it can be a great time to encourage kids and teens to practice bravery and flexibility. Kids who are nervous about writing or making new friends can practice these activities at a writing camp or in a sports league. Teens who worry about airplane travel or packing just the right amount of clothing in their suitcase might benefit from a short trip or summer camp. Help kids and teens to choose their own activities to practice bravery based on your family’s goals and values.
- Prepare for changes.
For kids and teens who are returning to school in the fall with new teachers, new classrooms, or even new school buildings, preparation is key. Encourage kids and teens to check out their new space or plan to meet up with new classmates/teachers before the start of the school year to make the transition a bit smoother. Many students are returning to in-person instruction after months of virtual or hybrid learning; help make this easier by practicing some group learning activities this summer. Take advantage of summer school programs and tutoring groups to ease students back into the classroom.
Practicing these five things over the summer can help kids and teens manage their mental health through the summer and back into a successful school year this fall.
© Erika J. Vivyan, PhD. All rights reserved.