The countdown to summer has already begun, so let’s talk about ways you can foster your child’s emotional growth and development in ways that also encourage family and social connections. Summer is wonderful for many reasons, but it is also a time when it can be difficult to find healthy routines and regular social opportunities. Some kids also find it challenging to continue practicing academic skills they find frustrating, such as reading and writing. While it’s important for kids to have unstructured and self-directed time, I wanted to offer some ideas for ways you can connect with your kids and encourage skill development.
Summer reading can be a tough sell. Here are some books that may be fun to read together that also provide an opportunity to talk about emotions, relationships, and other parts of development. The Joey Pigza series by Jack Gantos is about a boy with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder that struggles to balance his impulsivity with his desire to follow directions. It is full of humor and real-life situations your son or daughter may identify with (ages 11-13 recommended). I am Enough by Grace Byers can be read with ages 4-8, and centers on themes of valuing and caring for yourself and others. The Way I Feel by Janan Cain (ages 2-8) encourages emotion awareness and acceptance, and can provide opportunities to talk about when you and your kids have felt various emotions. Yes, Your Parents are Crazy! A Teen Survival Guide and Yes, Your Teen is Crazy: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind by Michael Bradley can be read together by you and your teen. These books help to normalize some realities of adolescent development, parenting, and teen-parent relationships. There should be plenty to talk and laugh about as you identify with what is discussed. There are lots of other books that provide opportunities to learn about and discuss emotions and relationships, so be intentional about including some in your summer reading list. Maybe you or your child can start a summer book club to talk about the books, thereby making the reading and emotional learning a social process.
Do you ever enjoy listening to acoustic music? Did you ever watch MTV Unplugged and marvel at how the music and lyrics come through differently when the electric components are turned off? This summer, commit to regular family time that is unplugged. Set up specific hours during the day that will be unplugged, or find certain days during the month that will be completely acoustic.
New Challenges, New Adventures
Summer can also be a good time to try new things, whether or not we are successful. Develop a plan with your kids to do something new together, and if it’s new for Mom and Dad that’s even better. New foods, a new activity, something that will take you out of your comfort zone and create an opportunity to be resilient and flexible, since new things can be challenging no matter your age. Modeling resilience and flexibility is important, but sometimes adults have already figured out how to stay comfortable, so these opportunities are less frequent than the risk-taking kids experience more regularly.
Practice Family Values
Finally, use this summer to talk about family values and put them into practice. You have already read about some things that you may value as a family or strive to instill in your children: resilience, flexibility, and emotion awareness. Additionally, if you value helping others, find a way to volunteer as a family during the summer, or if relationships are something that needs work, be intentional about opportunities to be around others in different settings (home, camp, sports, playground, pool). If your kids find these social opportunities to be difficult due to anxiety or trouble with social cues, check out our summer social skill groups. School provides frequent social opportunities right now, but it’s important to continue social development during the summer as well. It might be good to start planning now, you know your kids are already counting down the days.