Restless and Bored: How to
Use Structure to Keep Your Child from Getting into Trouble This Summer
Kids often see the summer months as a time to do whatever they please, with
no responsibilities or academic pressures. Some kids expect an endless range of
fun activities-and besides that, they're hanging out with friends, sleeping
until noon, and might see an easing of the rules as their reward for making it
through another school year. Your child might be imagining a summer that reality
can rarely deliver, which sets them up to be let down. The change in routine
alone can be sufficient to throw some kids off-kilter. When you combine these
factors-expectations and a change in schedule-with an increase in family
togetherness (or claustrophobia, depending on how you look at it), it's only a
matter of time before the level of conflict rises in your home.
Is it best to have some kind of structure in place
during the summer? How do you balance it with free time?
Having some amount of structure in the summer is helpful for most families.
Determining how much structure to put into place will depend on the individual
needs of your children. Some kids typically do well with less structure and are
able to spend their time engaging in acceptable ways, but many others don't. If
your children tend to act out and get into trouble if left to their own devices,
then planning out a detailed summer schedule of activities might be the
solution. It requires some work up front, but it can prevent many problems from
arising along the way. Work with your child to create a list of activities that
they are interested in doing. Some might involve weekly lessons and practice
times, while others are more flexible. Schedule the morning, midday, and evening
routine, including mealtimes, designated chore time, activities and free time.
Post the schedule in a spot where family members can easily reference it. This
may sound too rigid for your child. But look at it this way: if the summer has
begun, and your child is already bored, isn't helping out at home and is causing
trouble with siblings and friends, consider setting up a structure that is
similar to what they're used to at school. At school, there are set times for
different subjects and activities. James Lehman's opinion is that planning out a
schedule for your child at home will help manage his behavior. You can avoid
power struggles by deferring to the schedule when your child needs help staying
on-task. The intention is not to be overly strict or inflexible, but rather to
help teach children how to manage their time effectively.
Ideally, there should be a mix of both planned activities and down time. The
specifics of what this will look like will depend on the age and needs of your
kids. However, here is an example of a scheduled summer day for a 5 to 12 year
7:30am- Wake up, dress, breakfast
9:00am- Outdoor play/exercise (weather permitting) around the house or at local
10:30am- Summer Reading Program (Schools and libraries often have these set up
1:00pm- Swim lessons
3:00pm- Chore time
4:00pm- Free time at home
6:30pm- Night-time routine- bathing, tidying up, etc.
7:30pm- Quiet activities- reading, drawing, and listening to music (whatever
helps your kids wind down.)
Setting up a summer schedule for your teenager will look a bit different. The
hope is that by the time kids reach their teen years, they will be more capable
of managing their time, but many will need a loose outline of daily
expectations. One significant difference in a teen's schedule will be the
possible addition of employment or volunteer work. It is completely reasonable
to expect that your teen ventures into the working world or volunteers his time
on a part-time basis. Below is an example of a scheduled summer day for your
9:00am- Out of bed, breakfast, shower, dress, etc.
10:30am- Chore time
11:30am- Free time at home
1pm- Attend part-time job or volunteer position
4pm- Free time at home
5:30pm- Dinner with family
6:30pm- Free time to socialize with peers
10pm weekdays- Curfew
Again, these are just examples of structured and balanced summer schedules-you
will figure out what works for you. The key point is that many parents find that
it creates more stress for the whole family when kids are over-booked. When
there is too much on a child's plate, it will likely result in resistance and
power struggles. Build in free time to the schedule in amounts that will give
your child time to slow down, relax, or accept a last minute invitation to spend
time with a friend. You may have to experiment with how much free time will be
the right amount-because having too much or too little both carry problems.
Ultimately, making the transition into summer vacation can be a smooth and
pleasant one, if you take the needs of your family into consideration and come
up with a game plan.
Having structure in the summer can also help kids make a more seamless
transition back into school come fall. They will already be accustomed to
meeting the demands of a schedule (and getting up in the morning), whereas if no
summer structure was in place, the school routine could be a shock to their
systems once the new semester rolls around again.
Tips on introducing a summer structure in your home:
Introducing a new way of doing things is often met with resistance, so be ready
for your kids to protest the implementation of a summer schedule. Use the
example of last summer (or this one if it is already underway and going poorly)
to tell your children that you want things to go differently. You could say,
"Remember last summer when you were bored and arguing with each other all the
time? Having a schedule can help make this summer go more smoothly." Stay very
positive about the new plan and allow your child to fill in some of the daily
activities so that they can contribute and therefore, be more on-board with this
change. The introduction of a summer schedule should be planned out ahead of
time and discussed in a family meeting-avoid the temptation to announce it in
the heat of the moment when your kids are acting out. This will only make it
seem like a punishment.
Once you have rolled out the new schedule, expect your kids to take a little
time to adjust, but do your best to stick to it consistently. This will create
the most benefit for the family. That being said, it's also okay to occasionally
alter the agenda to accommodate special plans or catch up on rest if it is
needed. One of the key points to remember is that you want your child to have
time to relax over the summer without losing all sense of routine. You'll be
surprised at how holding on to a reasonable structure in the summer will give
him that extra help so he can transition smoothly when the new school year rolls
around in the fall.
By Erin Schlicher
Erin Schlicher coached parents on the Parental
Support Line for the
Transformation and Total Focus Programs for nearly two years. She holds a
Masters in Counseling from Regis University in Denver, Colorado. Erin has worked
with children and families in a helping capacity for more than ten years. She is
also the proud mother of a delightful 9-month-old baby girl.