Tips For Parents Staying Sane Over the Summer

Dad jugglings apples for kids enjoyment while having a family picnik outside in summer
Mieke Vanderborght

There’s a commercial from the 1990’s for a large office and school supply store. It played during the back to school shopping period, and it features a dad gleefully prancing down the store aisles while his kids shuffle behind him, looks of complete despair on their faces. The christmas song, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” plays in the background. It’s not hard to guess why the dad is so happy that the kids are going back to school. But what if summer wasn’t so stressful for caregivers? It can take a little work and planning, but we can do it! Here are some tips on how:

Set Yourself up for Success

Adjust Expectations and Embrace Flexibility

It’s normal for things to get a little off track during the summer. Kids don’t have their usual school and activity schedule. They may be spending more time at home at times, and less time at home at others. Whatever it is, the normal routines are different. So it follows that family management has to be different as well. This may not be the time to expect big things to get accomplished. Take a deep breath and get ready to accept the twists and turns that’ll inevitably come up. And, when it gets tough, remind yourself that before you know it summer will be over and you’ll be back to the regular grind. 

Carve Out Quality Time with Your Kids

Summer gives us a unique opportunity to enjoy our kids in ways that we may not be able to during the year. You don’t have to stop everything to spend every minute of the summer together, but even small amounts of time can be hugely meaningful. Try making a goal of 30 minutes a day. Or a half day a week. Or whatever fits in your schedule. Just focus on making the time high quality and giving your kids your full attention to reinforce your connection with them. You can go somewhere special, play their favorite game, or simply cuddle on the couch to read a book.

Set Up Help

Sure, spending time together is precious – but so is getting some space. You may have rosy dreams of a summer filled with super-charged family time and expect to love every one of the many many minutes you spend with your kids. If that’s true and authentic for you, that’s wonderful! But if it isn’t, that’s okay too. It may also just not be possible: Just because they’re on a school break doesn't mean that you’re on a work break! There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that you need a break from your kids – and that maybe they’ll be happier spending some time with peers or other loving adults in their lives. Don’t feel guilty for setting up help. Find local summer camps, arrange to exchange playdates with other families, hire a babysitter, or take advantage of family members willing to help out. Whatever you can put together, plan it, own it, and make it happen!

Beef Up Your Own Calming Activities

Spending that much time with anyone, no matter how adorable they are, will inevitably lead to conflicts. Now’s a good time to focus on your favorite and most effective tools for calming yourself down when things get too hot. When the stress of managing the family is too much, or the kids are just driving you bonkers, take a bath, read a book, listen to your favorite song, meditate, take a walk, whatever it is that you have to do. Just think ahead and make sure to have some ideas at the ready!

Plan Family Activities with You in Mind

It’s so easy to get caught up taking care of everyone else and forget about yourself! But when you’re planning activities – whether they’re things to do at home or a big family vacation – don’t forget to think about what will make you happy and relaxed too! You all work hard and you all deserve some extra fun during the summer! It’s also a good lesson for kids in sharing and compromise to make an effort to meet everyone’s needs. And, it’ll also make you happier and calmer, which will give you the strength to handle the summer’s more difficult moments.

Make a Family Chore Jar

With more people around the house and regular routines upended, it’s likely there will be more housework and chores to do and roles will get shifted. Don’t let kids off the hook for picking up some of the slack! Just as a summer job for a teen is a great opportunity for them to practice responsibility and learn new skills, jobs around the house do the same. And bonus points because it helps you too! Try writing down chores that need to be done on slips of paper and putting them in a jar. Kids can choose their chores on a daily or weekly basis.

Set Your Kids Up For Sucess

Then, once you’ve set yourself up, it’s time to think about the kids.

Set Clear Guidelines

Yes, summer is often all about freedom. But, too much freedom can quickly turn into chaos. It’s helpful for everyone to set some clear rules and expectations for routines and behavior during the summer. How strict you need to be will depend on your needs and those of your family. But, you might consider setting clear meal times and closing the kitchen outside those times so that you’re not on constant food prep and clean up duty. Another good rule to think about is to set a bedtime, just like during the school year. That way kids are more likely to get enough sleep – and you still get some down time in the evening! Setting rules around time on screens will likely be important, as will what extra chores kids may need to pick up.  

Schedule Activities, But Not Too Many

While you’re working on your basic expectations, you may also want to set up a schedule. It can be relatively loose, such as mornings are for doing something outside, whereas afternoons are for indoor art, science, or other calm activities. Or, if you feel better with even more guidance, you can get super specific about what exactly will happen when – almost like schedules kids follow when they’re in school.

Embrace Unstructured Downtime

When you’re setting up the schedule, keep in mind that it’s the summer – in other words, the exact perfect time for lazy down time. Down time is always important, but summer is unique. It’s a great opportunity to allow kids to enjoy unstructured time.

Make an "I'm Bored" List

Yes! Unstructured downtime might mean that kids will get bored sometimes. Don’t let them make you into their on-call event planner. Plan ahead and work with your kids to make a list of all kinds of activities kids can do when they don’t know what to do with themselves. If they come to you whining “I don’t know what to dooooo,” send them to their list and tell them to have fun!

Get Them Outside and Moving

Without the regular routine or regular sports practice, it’s easy to laze around on the couch all day long. Sure, there’s some room for that, but remember the importance of physical activity as well. Getting kids outside, moving around, and physically active is good for them and good for you too! And if it’s too hot outside, that’s an exercise video, obstacle course, or dance party waiting to happen.

Final Thoughts 

So there you have it. At the end of the summer you may still feel like that dad in the commercial, overcome with joy as he prepares his kids to go back to school. But in the meantime, try to embrace and enjoy the special opportunities that summer brings to your family life. And by setting yourself – and your kids – up for success, you may just be able to keep your cool.

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