Caring for Children’s Mental Health During the Summer
Memories of summer vacation for many include camps, trips and relaxing rainy days at home. For some, however, the break from school creates a change in routine that can be difficult for children who may have trouble adjusting. The freedom that comes with summer can be overwhelming for some kids and teens, which can lead to increased anxiety and loneliness.
The school year provides young people with structure and an organized routine, where they encounter their teachers each day, as well as their friends and peers. The loss of this routine can be distressing and leave kids feeling disconnected. In addition, the last couple years of the pandemic has had an impact on everyone’s mental well-being, especially children.
Changes in Behavior Can Be an Early Warning
There are behaviors you can be on the lookout for if you are concerned that your child or teen is struggling with the change summer break brings, for example:
- Sleeping late or for majority of the day or not sleeping
- Loss of interest or unwilling to engage with others
- Increased anxiety or panic attacks
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
- Moodiness, irritability, or aggressive behavior
Summer can be an opportunity for parents and caregivers to spend time reconnecting with children. There are ways to keep children’s mental health a priority during the summer, so they are refreshed and prepared with the school year begins again.
Strategies to Support Children’s Mental Health Through the Summer
- Create a Schedule Just for Them. At the end of the school year, talk with your child and discuss what you each want to achieve during the break. What activities can you plan together? This can include daily activities such as morning walks and evening bike rides, or weekly activities like a designated family movie night or playdates with their friends. For some, summer camps or athletic teams, like swimming, may be a good option. For a child who loves to read, most libraries offer free summer reading programs. By discussing the summer and the possibilities together, you are giving your child the space to share and spend time with you.
- Keep to a Routine. Most children thrive with an established routine, which means consistency is a priority. Maintain the same wake and bedtimes each day to practice healthy sleep habits. Plan and cook meals together to encourage healthy eating. Make allowances for alone time so kids can recharge. For older teens, consider helping them find a part-time job or an opportunity to volunteer with a cause they care about. By establishing a routine, children can focus on what they can control and find security in predictability.
- Encourage Mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness is being aware of feelings and acknowledging your surroundings in the present, without judgement. Mindfulness techniques are unique to each person, but it is possible for children and teens to practice. For younger children, think about things that can be done throughout the day, such as conveying gratitude or taking nature walks. If your child is emotionally struggling, provide them with some one-on-one time to listen to them, help them name the emotions they are feeling, and give them space to express themselves through art or journaling. For older children, encourage them to schedule mindfulness in their day. This can be done through mental health apps on their phones or time you set aside to check in with one another.
- Balance is Key. It is important that children have engaging activities to participate in during the summer, but it is also important that they have time to relax. A summer that is jam-packed with different activities can be just as overwhelming as a summer with nothing to do. Helping your child learn and navigate this balance is a life skill that they will take into adulthood.
Resources are Available When Help is Needed
If your child is struggling, asking questions and talking openly without judgement can go a long way towards understanding your kid’s or teen’s feelings and emotions. However, if your child is having difficulty or shows increased signs of stress, it is okay to reach out and ask for help. The partners of Kids’ Minds Matter are prepared to aid your child and your family during mental health challenges with expert resources and support.
Parents Mental Health is a Priority Too
We understand that parents and caregivers can feel overwhelmed as well. While kids have no school for the summer, most of us still need to work and it can be difficult to balance professional obligations with spending quality time with family. It’s important that you don’t push down your own stress or anxieties, which can lead to fatigue or burnout. Lead by example by acknowledging your feelings and taking care of your own mental health, because even though you may not be saying it aloud, children can feel your panic or stress. We also lead by example, showing our children that we take of ourselves and manage our own mental health is a powerful example.
You are not expected to have all the answers, Golisano Children’s Hospital offers classes and support groups that can help.
About the Author
Richard Keelan, Kids’ Minds Matter/Golisano Children’s Hospital Child Advocacy Program Manager, is a passionate advocate of mental health awareness training and anti-stigma education, including Mental Health First Aid training and parenting classes. He is also supervisor of Mental Health Navigators who are embedded in schools and community agencies to help families receive mental and behavioral health support.