Dr. Dan suggests that we provide our kids with ideas to partially structure their summer days while they learn to unwind in “Settling into Summer,” his latest Parent Footprints column in Diablo Gazette.
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BY DR DAN
It’s here, the moment your kids have been waiting for – summer vacation. You have been waiting for it, too! A break from all the homework, after school activities, sports, enrichment classes, music, and more. Finally, a break! But is it? If only a few weeks into summer, you are asking “what date does school start?” you are not alone.
Do any of these statements sound familiar?
“I have nothing to do”
“Why do I have to get off the computer?”
“I don’t want to go to camp?”
“I just want to relax and do nothing”
“Summer is my break. Why can’t I do what I want?”
Welcome to the reality of summer! It is important to remember that kids often have trouble winding down and settling into summer. There is often a transition period. Many kids are scheduled from the moment they wake up to the moment they hit their pillow. Structure, although sometimes resisted, provides the boundaries by which they move through their days and defines their actions hour by hour. When this structure is removed, many children are at a loss of what to do.
Part of the process of settling into summer is allowing some transition time. Transition time can probably be avoided, or not needed, if your child goes from the schedule of school to the schedule of summer camp. For those who children who don’t, you may have to provide them with ideas to partially structure their day while they learn to unwind and settle into a less scheduled day.
Summer break is an opportunity for so many different experiences – from creating and building, doing art, going on hikes, reading, exploring new places, taking classes, day and overnight camp, family adventures, and more. While it is our job as parents to plan for your child’s summer, it is also important to include them in the process. After all it is their summer. You might be surprised to learn what they have in mind.
In addition to all the activities, some of which are mentioned above, you may want to think about what life skills you want to focus on or allow to develop. You may want your child to have a new experience, take some fun enrichment classes, play in a sports summer league, do some tutoring, or have a summer of unstructured time for creating and relaxing. This is purely a personal choice for each family.
In most cases, you will find that your child will settle into summer and find their own grove. You will also find that you will settle into summer, too! Enjoy it all because soon it will be back to school!
This piece first appeared in the Diablo Gazette.
BY DR. DAN PETERS
My son asked if I could take he and a friend snowboarding for a Sunday adventure. It was short notice and a very long day (4 hours drive each way) but I agreed, looking forward to some quality time with my son and in nature after some big storms.
My son was snowboarding with his friend and I decided to ski. I started my life as a skier and evolved to snowboarding over time. Lately though, between skiing with my youngest who was learning to ski, and because my body doesn’t handle snowboarding falls as well as it used to, I have been skiing more.
Many of the lifts were double chairs so I often went alone, enjoying the beautiful scenery and people watching. After several chair lifts and several runs I became aware of something. People of all ages were snowboarding. People of all ages were skiing. Families had some snow boarders and some skiers. Everyone on the slopes was getting along and respecting each other’s space and recreational sport orientation. As I looked around and pondered, I realized that my son probably didn’t know if was ever any different.
Remember when skiers were the dominant culture and snow boarders were new and looked down upon? Remember when many ski resorts did not allow snowboarders. Remember when skiers were thought of as elite and entitled and snow boarders were thought of as less than and second class?
The good news is most of our kids don’t.
The bad news is that our kids are watching groups of people being profiled and discriminated against. The bad news is that rules are being made quickly about how people should be treated based on where they live and how they look. The bad news is that people are being judged and profiled. The bad news is that lots of people are scared.
There was a time when skiers and snowboarders didn’t like each other and felt threatened by each other. I am not sure exactly what happened, but I know it evolved over time. They needed to get used to each other and realize that both groups loved the snow, loved the sport, and loved nature. They needed to realize that while some members of each group fit the stereotype, most did not. They were all the same people who lived in their communities, and all human.
We need to teach our children about humanity and human nature. Humans are filled with love and compassion, and humans get scared and intimidated. Humans can work together to accomplish amazing things, and humans can blame others for their misfortune. Sure, one can argue we have much larger issues facing us than what type of equipment to use in the snow, but the human issues are not different. We must learn to accept differences. We must learn the difference between something being different and a threat. We must ultimately realize that we will last longer as a civilization if we choose love over hate and fear. We must teach our kids the difference. We can all get along – just like the snowboarders and skiers.
This piece first appeared in the Diablo Gazette.
Last weekend we had an extended family dinner with many relatives. I was sitting on a cushion on the fireplace and looking at a large couch and an oversized chair stuffed with nine cousins ranging from ages 12 to 22. They were smiling, laughing, sitting on each other and…they were all on their phones! I didn’t realize it at first because I guess it has become so normal to see screens. At that moment I realized I was observing — and living in — a social experiment that is universal to all families today. Media and technology are a regular and normal part of our kid’s lives and our modern culture – a new normal.
While the specific struggles with screen time vary from family to family, as a counselor to parents, teens, children I know this is an issue parents struggle with every day. Here are 5 tips I try to implement in my own home and I tell my patients to practice:
1. Accept reality – Many adults fight technology in the same way our parents fought too much television (a different screen but still a screen). Most of our kids will not remember a life without smart phones. They grew up with this a small computer in their hands and the ability to access anything, any time. We can’t get mad at these kids for these habits – this is the time they are living in and we need to figure out how to deal with it and the first step is accepting this new reality.
2. Educate – We need to talk (not lecture but actually dialog) with our kids about technology – the pros and the cons. Ask your children what they think about technology and what they like about it. Ask them whether they think all technology is the same – smartphone, gaming, computers. Then tell them why you don’t feel comfortable with excessive tech use and ask them if what you are saying makes sense to them. Explain why you feel the need to regulate their use and promise it is not because you want to control them or micro manage their life but rather it’s your job to guide them as their parent.
3. Collaborate – Help you kids learn to self-regulate and be independent by inviting them into the conversation about technology usage, what is appropriate, and what is too much. It is always interesting to hear what our kids think as I have often had children clients be more restrictive of themselves than their parents were planning — when kids are part of the technology plan, they will be more invested in the plan being successful.
4. Be Self-Aware – How much technology do you use? What are you modeling for your children? Are always on your smartphone or tablet? Are the things you are checking or researching more important than what your child wants to do on their device? You might want to ask your child how much they think you are on electronics. I find I need to be extremely purposeful to turn my phone upside down with all sounds off when I get home and resist the temptation for a “quick check” of email and texts. Remember, our kids are always watching us. Do they see your screen or your face?
5. Schedule breaks and family time – Even though kids want to be in charge of their lives all parents and therapists know they need guidance and limits. We need to provide limits based on their developmental age and their maturity level. These breaks can be co-created during the collaborative conversations you have with your kids about a family plan and this plan should include family activities (a hike, a game, cooking). Of course not all breaks should be “family time” because our kids need to learn to self-sooth, relax, and manage their own time away from technology. The perfect blend includes screen time, family time and alone time and this will work for all of us regardless of age.
We are living in a digitized world and it is only becoming more digitized every day. Help your children find balance and time to disconnect, and give yourself the same opportunity – together — and the world will open up to you all in unexpected and delightful “in real life” ways.
This piece first appeared on Huffington Post. Image Credit: Pixabay Free Images
“It’s time for dinner!”
I grew up in a home that had regular family dinners. My dad had a consistent job schedule and we had family dinner at 6:30pm every night. I also remember watching “The Brady Bunch” and “Knight Rider” before dinner and James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, and Carly Simon playing in the background while we ate. I remember eating our salad first, then the rest of the dinner.
Today I have a practice as a child – adolescent – family psychologist and I now know that there is proven research that family dinners are reliable predictors of both child health and adjustment. Good job to my mom and dad!
I remember when I learned about the benefit of family dinners during my professional training and of course I had no doubt that when I became a parent I would have family dinners. I guess I was paying attention when I was young because I thought about this before I was even married!
Fast forward years later and, sure enough, I was married and my wife and I had three children — all under the age of six. It was finally time for our family dinners! My wife and I were both raised this way and we both knew by this time that family dinners lead to healthy children and positive adjustment. We were ready and confident. We couldn’t wait to start our tradition.
But the universe had other plans. Our early family dinners were total disasters.
Imagine this —
· Kids screaming and crying
· Kids throwing food
· Three kids getting in and out of their chairs — constantly
· Kids fighting, fighting, and fighting with each other
And of course an upset Dad. In fact I would be truly stressed because family dinners were “supposed” to be good experiences (right?) and if we didn’t have good ones then it would be bad for our kids. Thankfully, my wife had a much better perspective. “They aren’t ready yet,” she would say, “They are still young. We will have plenty of family dinners when they get older. We just need to go with the flow.” I was worried it would never happen and kept trying and forcing the situation to work. More total disasters. Finally we stopped. And I continued to worry: Will they ever understand that being together at dinner is important? What will their family memories be? How could we fail at this?
Fortunately, over time, meal by meal our dinners improved – and one day we realized we were actually enjoying these family dinners. We heard about our kids’ days, talked about what was going on in the world, and chatted about friends and family. My wife and I began to learn things we didn’t know by simply listening to our kids (especially when all three became teenagers!) talk about things from their own relationships with each other – relationships that didn’t include us – and so much more. We had it all figured out.
Enter the universe’s plan again…
Just as suddenly as our dinners began improving and we had a real tradition – everything changed again.
Recently my wife went back to nursing two nights a week and our teens were alone and our family dinner schedule changed. Back to less family dinners again.
Fast forward to last week: I had a work dinner and my wife was working. We would both be home late. No family dinner — again.
That night I got home later than expected and I was shocked by what I discovered: my oldest teen told me (with a smile) that my youngest had prepared dinner, set the table, and all three of them as well as one friend had their own “family dinner.” They had fun, talked, listened, and cleaned up everything. My youngest daughter was smiling widely when I went to her room to ask her about the night and my own smile was wider than all three of my teens combined!
In that instant, I flashed back to the dinner days of crying, high chairs, and fighting. I remembered my worries and concerns that our kids wouldn’t embrace our family values and rituals. I laughed out loud because even amidst the flying food, the disruptive tantrums and constantly changing schedules our kids got it and finally so did I.
I literally heard what I tell my clients — do what is meaningful to you as a parent and what you believe is good for your family; try not to worry about the future; show your kids what matters in life by living it – and repeat all of these often. What we do (big and small) will make a difference in their lives and in ours.
And finally, yes the kids are paying attention — just like we did when we were the ones sitting around the dinner table.
This piece first appeared on Huffington Post. Image credit: Dr. Dan Peters