Helping children’s mental health during summer

Mental Health Monday: Summer slide during kids’ vacation time

When children are out of school, parents can help maintain children’s mental health in summer by planning. The past several years have offered a variety of challenges for school children. As a result, it is important to avoid a “summer slide” in mental health and academics.

The “summer slide” is real, and typically consists of regression in academic and mental health skills that can span up to several months. A study published in the American Education Research Journal in 2020 found that students lost on average 39 percent of gains made across the entire school year.

Everyone looks forward to the freedom of summer. However, getting out of the structure and safety of school routines can trigger children who suffer from anxiety or depression. Some children find it difficult to adapt to the lack of structure and social interaction when school is out. Some may become bored and unfulfilled. How can parents help children thrive in the summer?

Summer also presents challenges for parents to balance work and making sure their children and busy and fulfilled.

In addition, depending on a family’s plans for summer, kids can feel isolated or lonely. Also, without planned activities, children may spend too much time in front of screens. Even with the best-laid plans, parents may see some regression and worsening behavior over vacation.

Tips for supporting children’s mental health during summer

Keep a schedule. Most kids thrive with routine, particularly kids with mental disorders. While schedules will shift in the summer, having a regular bedtime and wake up time can help minimize sleeping difficulties. A predictable routine can reduce stress and anxiety.

The key is consistency. For example, schedule a Zoom call every week with family members, or coordinate a playdate with their friends each week.

In addition, children who do better with predictability or have trouble with transitions do better with defined schedules about what is happening each day.

Plan fun activities for children. Children may be upset during the summer that they are unable to see their friends. Fun, new activities such as summer camp or swimming lessons will give children something to anticipate. In addition, planned activities can help children reduce screen time.

Physical activity and time outdoors is important for children’s mental health. Being outdoors can reduce anxiety and depression. Running, jumping, jogging, or playing sports helps release endorphins for both mental and physical health.

While activities are important, so is balance. Too many activities may be overwhelming, resulting in exhaustion and overstimulation. Children also need time to relax and spend time alone.

Activities for children’s mental health

It’s important to devise ways for children to interact with their peers. Children develop important life skills through socializing, sharing, setting boundaries and problem-solving. Try to foster strong, healthy relationships through interaction with peers. Ways to do this in summer include:

  • Phone or video calls
  • In-person gatherings or play dates
  • Camps
  • Social media technologies like online video games.

Encourage children to read for enjoyment. A study by The Reading Agency showed that nonacademic reading allows for better parent-child communication, increased self-esteem and empathy, reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improved overall wellbeing.

Crafts are great indoor alternatives that encourage confidence, concentration, and self-awareness. Also, arts activities can provide an outlet to express emotions. Group crafts encourage sharing ideas and connections to others.

When arrangements can be made, summer camp programs provide a safe environment for children to develop social skills, decision-making and even be outside. In fact, structured activities have been shown to improve mental resiliency by allowing kids to interact with others and develop a sense of independence. While some camps do cost money, others are free, such as vacation Bible schools through area churches. Arts, theater, nature, children’s attractions, and sports organizations often offer summer camps.

Here are some of the camps for children in Southwest Florida:

If parents can maintain a sense of fun, moments of learning and development that may not happen in a classroom can result!

About the Author

Jason Sabo, Ph.D. is Licensed Psychologist and Psychologist Site Lead for Lee Health Pediatric Behavioral Health.