~ By Emilee Rodriguez
Looking forward to summer!?!
Our thoughts about summer include our expectations, or hopes, of what our summer will look like. Many kids and parents have expectations of summer fun, beach and boating days, vacations, sleeping in, and more! For my family and many of our clients, parents are juggling two jobs, kids’ active schedules, and kids home for many hours each day. We hear questions from parents primarily about keeping kids safe in the summer: how much technology should my child/ teen have, can I leave my 10-year-old home alone, should I leave my 14-year-old home alone, and how should I parent my kid who has a mental health issue during the summer? As we counsel parents on the summer transition, we frequently talk about the three main roles, or priorities, of parenting which are safety, nurture, and challenge.
The main priority for parents is safety. Boundaries for kids should be based on the values of the parents, the trust that is between each child or teen and the parents, and what is developmentally appropriate for each kid. I have five kids ranging in age from 8 to 16 and they each have different boundaries (rules, privileges, responsibilities). Boundaries should be flexible and move towards more successful independence as our kids get older. Safety issues to consider as you are setting summer boundaries for your kids include: access to supervision, access to weapons and substances, discussions on shifting roles (e.g. big brother is in charge when parent/s are working), responding to crisis if necessary, and contingency planning (e.g. big brother gets invited to friend’s house when he is babysitting for dad).
Michelle’s Musings: When setting boundaries for the summer, remember to communicate with your children. Sometimes they may get confused about a boundary or they may have a different point of view you haven’t thought of yet that could change your mind.
Nurture is about building relationship and a sense of belonging for our kids, and this is usually a priority for parents; but, often parents don’t put as much planning into nurture and connection as they do into other summer necessities such as summer childcare. As you are finalizing plans for your summer, be intentional in planning ways you can engage and connect with each of your kids. One possibility for connecting with young teens is during car rides. Young teens (and younger kids) frequently want or need rides to activities and friends. Use car time to connect with your kids. Have a “no technology” rule for those short regular car rides we all take when dropping and picking up kids. A connection point with older teens can happen later at night . Teens are usually up late and more willing to connect over a snack and share about their time with friends or work. Encourage other adult nurturing relationships for your kids as well. Grandparents, coaches, or friends’ parents can all add to our kids sense of belonging.
Michelle’s Musings: Another great way to connect to your children is to just ask them to spend ten to fifteen minutes talking to you. Make a time to do an activity, like gardening or a game. This will allow you to connect with them while doing something you both enjoy. Sometimes kids can reject connecting with parents especially during hard times. Don’t give up! Keep trying to connect with them and make sure to remind them how much you love them. A parent-kid date can help but make sure to do things your kid likes.
Prioritizing challenge over the summer is also important. Set expectations for your kids at the beginning of the summer. How much activity/exercise is expected? Do you want your kids to grow in a skill (math facts) or a talent (music lessons)? Which chores will they be responsible for? What are the expectations for play dates, hangouts, or friend time? How do siblings interact and handle conflict and problem solving? These are all good places to start in laying the foundation for healthy challenge this summer with your own kids.
Michelle’s Musings: When trying to get your kids to learn something, ask them what they want to learn first or if its something they need, make sure to make it fun. When your older teens go to friend’s houses, set boundaries but remember you don’t have control when you can’t see what’s going on. Make sure they are comfortable with difficult situations with friends and that they know the consequences of their actions.
Have a fun and safe summer. Intentional planning on the front end can lead to both parents and kids saying, “We had the best summer!”
Emilee Rodriguez, LAMFT & Michelle Rodriguez (Emilee’s daughter who is currently enjoying her summer vacation before she starts high school), co-wrote this article together. Michelle’s parts are the responses titled “Michelle’s Musings”.
Other blogs by Emilee Rodriguez, MA, LAMFT