By Lynette Dixon, PhD, LPC, NCC, CRAADC
Summer is a time of year that students have looked forward to for as long as school attendance has been the norm in the United States. Songs such as “School’s Out for Summer,” demonstrate the sentiments that many hold for this precious time of year when demands are often lessened and students are free to enjoy the warm weather and extra time with family and friends. However, as celebrated as summer often is, it can be a difficult time for students who thrive on structure and more organized times for them to interact with their peers.
The freedom of summer can be difficult for some students who may not be as well versed at organizing social interactions with peers and may lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Students may fall into patterns of sleeping late and the lounging around at home too often. While typical summer behavior that is enjoyed by many, engaging in less activity can lead to feelings of boredom, unproductivity, and can lead to an increase in depressive symptoms, especially for students who are already pre-disposed to this condition.
Students who struggle with mental and emotional issues often receive a lot of support during the school year from caring teachers, school counselors, and other staff whom they form relationships with and who are able to more closely monitor how they are doing. Without the support of these caring relationships signs can go un-noticed. However, summer can provide a time for parents or other caregivers to reconnect with their children and make some lasting memories.
Here are some tips for parents to help their children take care of their mental health during summer break, as well as some signs to watch for:
- Establish a summer routine. While summer is the perfect time to relax and embrace a slower pace, it is still important to maintain a routine so that children are continuing to engage in stimulating activities.
- Practice healthy habits. Staying active, eating right, and practicing healthy sleep habits are important to maintain over the summer months. Our mental well-being is impacted by our physical health.
- Encourage journal writing. This can provide an outlet for emotions.
- Encourage children to start something new. Now can be the time to try something that they have always wanted to try. Embark on a new hobby or project. This can provide children with a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
- Take extra time to engage in activities together. Family activities can be great, such as going to the park or tossing a ball back and forth after dinner. It can also be fun to spend some one-on-one time with each child during the summer months, such as a special breakfast with mom or dad, alternating which child to take out. These low pressure activities can open up some space for your child to share what is on his or her mind.
- Keep an eye on their behavioral patterns. Many kids love to sleep late during the summer months, and this can be okay, but if they sleep for the majority of the day, no longer want to engage with others, experience extreme irritability, or if they stop engaging in activities that they once enjoyed, then this may be a cause for concern.
- Watch for signs of excessive worry or concern, especially if the child also disengages from others or if they suddenly begin to engage in more sedentary activities.
If you do notice any troubling signs with your child, starting a conversation with them can be a good place to start. It is also a good idea to consult with your pediatrician or even seek out a counseling appointment. West County Psychological Associates has counselors available for children, adolescents, adults and families and would be glad to discuss your concerns about your child.
Lynette Dixon, PhD, LPC, NCC, CRAADC has worked in the field of mental health since 2010 serving families, couples, and individuals of all ages on a variety of issues including depression, anxiety, grief and loss, marital concerns, addiction, substance abuse, co-occurring disorders, PTSD, and other trauma-related disorders. Lynette is a Certified Reciprocal Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor, and she enjoys working with individuals to overcome addiction. She also has training in Play Therapy techniques and utilizes this approach when working with children.