As a kid, summer meant freedom and spontaneity. It conjured memories of the ice cream truck, mid-week sleepovers, kickball games lasting until it was dark, and riding my bike barefoot while snacking from a bag of Doritos hanging off the handlebar.
I didn’t know how my parents must’ve felt until I became a parent myself. Summer has since taken on a whole new meaning. The anticipation of summer now fills me with a mixture of guilt, annoyance, and anxiety. Sadly, I sometimes find myself wishing away the entire season.
So here we are, halfway through the summer, and for many of us it’s been anything but easy living. Here are five reasons I hate the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer (and what to do about them):
- Having to hear: “I’m bored” all the time. Well, I’m not. I’m actually really busy driving you to swim lessons, coordinating playdates, getting groceries, and wiping the counter for the 4,659th time today. But here’s the good thing: boredom isn’t all bad — for some kids it motivates them to get creative and come up with games or activities they wouldn’t have if they were provided with entertainment. Researcher Wijnand Van Tilburg said, “Boredom makes people long for different and purposeful activities, and as a result they turn towards more challenging and meaningful activities, turning towards what they perceive to be really meaningful in life.” So next time your kids complain of being bored, don’t tear your hair out, or jump to save them from their boredom — let them sit in it for a bit and see what might come of it.
- Transition and lack of routine abounds. Summer marks the year’s biggest transition for many kids (and therefore whole families). School is predictable, and the staff there deftly support our kids to function at their very best. Filling 14 hour days isn’t easy when don’t have a teaching degree (I imagine it’s not easy then, either). Here’s the good news: its good practice for our kids to have to deal with a little less structure. Sure, we still need to provide them with some routine (maybe something like a wake up and bedtime, chore list and a scheduled activity each day). And while the lack of structure doesn’t always lend itself to smooth sailing, know that it’s not all bad for our kids to flounder a bit.
- Summer’s expensive! If you choose public school for your child, it’s FREE. Camp? Not so much. In 2014, parents reported spending about $1,000 per child on summer expenses. And that’s nationwide! A quick search shows day camps in Bay Area averaging about $1,200 per month. Per kid! But want to look at the bright side of things? That same quick search showed an enormous variety of camps and activities available: zip lining, paddle boarding, sushi rolling, building remote control cars, woodworking and speed reading are just a few of the incredibly cool activities your kids will be able to access. Some of these are available through less expensive alternatives, like local Park and Recreation departments. So while summer can be pricey, it also gives your children opportunity to develop skills and try activities they might not otherwise have the chance to do.
- Wait — I have a job! Summer really epitomizes the childcare crisis in our country. School is pretty blissful for a working parent. And when school’s out for the day, many kids walk to the classroom next door and, voila, there’s the aftercare program, where they are monitored, fed, and entertained until busy parents can pick them up. Coordinating camps? It’s a full time job. Which friends are going to which camp and to which session and how will they be transported? Oh, that camp ends at 3pm? Bummer if you work later than that — you’d better get on the phone and coordinate childcare or a play date. Not to mention all the new and unfamiliar people, experiences and venues to which both kids and parents have to adjust. But there’s good news here, too! Yet again, being forced out of their comfort zone is, for many kids, a growth opportunity. It’s here where many kids learn flexibility. Learning to adapt to new people and situations is a lifelong skill and it will serve our kids well to get some practice.
- My kid has special needs! Special needs kids can suffer the most during the unstructured, spontaneous days of summer. Kids who struggle with social interactions? The built-in opportunity to mix and mingle in a supervised way all but disappears in the summer. And camp counselors, while well-meaning, enthusiastic, and really nice, aren’t always trained to recognize the unique needs of many kids. And summer means the daily support many kids need disappears (OT’s, PT’s and therapists need a break too, I suppose).
And let’s not forget the details of summer that can ruin a whole day for some kids, from fireworks to crowds and vacations, long car rides and humidity … almost everything about summer can be unpredictable and often frightening for special needs children. So what do we do about it? The Bay Area is a special place, and there are a number of camps and programs designed for kids with unique needs. SummerAde, which pairs high school volunteers with children with special needs to aid them during their week at a summer day camp, Fiddleheads welcomes kids “sporting any neuro-diverse quirks” throughout northern California, and Spectrum Surf Camp, which offers week-long surfing camps for young people with autism and cerebral palsy are just a few of the many camps and programs serving special needs kids in the Bay Area.
So while the anticipation of summer can fill me with anxiety, once the logistics are addressed and we’re plugging our way through summer, I have admit that I do find myself actually enjoying the opportunities that the flexibility of summer affords. And should your kids continue to struggle with the lack of structure inherent in summer, give Parents Place a call to help you figure out what might be your best course of action to support your child through the last few weeks of summer.
Alyse Clayman, LCSW, is the Children’s Clinical Director at Parents Place in San Rafael, CA. She provides consultation and therapy to families and children of all ages.