Yippie!! School is out! At its best, summer provides a break in the action, a chance to sleep in and get a mental health break. It is also an opportunity to focus on all aspects of well-being, and to pursue one’s interests. But the flexibility can lead to a little more pushback from young people: Why can’t I stay up late and sleep with my phone now that school is out? What do you mean I have to read in the summer? Honestly, I’m all for upping the focus on enjoying life and letting kids make choices and learn to accept natural consequences. I hope we can all embrace and enjoy some basics this summer.  

Connect with friends

Our social connections to friends, family and other parents are incredibly important to our mental health and success as parents. Parents need support, downtime and the opportunity to pursue interests outside the home. The saying is true: If mama (or daddy) ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Part of being a good parent is taking care of yourself. You need it, and kids need to see you giving attention to your own happiness and fulfillment.

Communicate in ways that build connection with your child

Instead of saying “Don’t do that,” try to understand what led the child to act as she did. For example, “I think you really wanted to play with that toy and were frustrated that she wouldn’t share. That’s a natural feeling to have. But it hurt your friend when you hit her, so let’s think through how you can handle a situation like that in the future. What could you do? Yes, you could ask for a turn or choose a different toy.”

Talk, read or sing with your child every day

This is especially critical for our youngest children. As First 5 California writes, “The moment babies come into this world, their brains are forming the connections that will determine how they learn, think and grow. In fact, more than 80 percent of your child’s brain growth is completed by age three, and it starts from day one. Babies who are talked to and read to from the time they’re born are better prepared by the time they start school. Kids who aren’t have a much bigger chance of falling behind.”

With extra emphasis for school-age kids: Try to work it so that kids are self- motivated to read most days.

Including reading in the daily routine of summer days, maybe after breakfast or lunch, can set an expectation. Giving kids an audience can help too: perhaps there are friends who would like to read the same book and talk about it, or different books that they tell each other about. Asking your child what’s going on in the book can deepen her thinking about what she’s reading and encourage her to read to the end so she can tell you about it. Reading aloud, a child reading to you, or taking turns are all fabulous relationship-building shared experiences. Check out readingrockets.org and the library’s summer program for all ages: Choose Adventure!

Have a wonderful summer filled with good times with children and whatever else feeds your soul.

Maria Chesley, PhD, is an educator and leader who believes in the power of communities to change lives. She is the executive director of the Carpinteria Children’s Project (CCP). CCP provides early childhood education, family support services and leadership of the Thrive Carpinteria Partner Network of early education and social service providers. Learn more at CarpChildren.org. Maria can be reached at mfisk@carpchildren.org or (805) 566-1600.

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