Are you counting the days until the beginning of summer fun, or are you dreading the lack of structure, clashing personalities, and arguments over screen time? Whether you live for the days of summer or are already looking ahead to August, chances are you know that summer is just… different. Even when families are excited about the opportunities and freedom summertime brings, the reality is that summer is a challenging time all-around, especially when it comes to the mental well-being of children and teens.
Why is summer important for kids?
Summer has the opportunity to be a crucial time of learning for kids and teens. Both summer boredom and summer activities offer chances for young people to build responsibility, develop social skills, and foster creativity. However, as stressful as the school year can be, it does serve to address some very real needs for kids that might go unmet during summer. Let’s look at some basic self-care practices suggested by the National Institute of Mental Health and see how your child might be unintentionally benefitting from these while the school year is in session.
- Get regular exercise. Even if your child does not have recess or a PE class, even just walking to classes provides more movement than many kids report getting during the summer. If your child is not regularly engaging in physical activity at school, how will they keep their bodies moving in joyful ways during the summer?
- Eat healthy, regular meals and stay hydrated. Eating habits of children and teens leave a lot to be desired, in general, but when families are on a more regular schedule, meal times tend to be, too. Sometimes, bored children and teens take bathroom or water breaks during the day to break up the monotony of class. Probably not most parents’ ideal scenario, but water is water! How can you work to ensure your child is staying nourished and hydrated during the hot summer months?
- Make sleep a priority. Are you a “Eh, it’s summer!” kind of family when it comes to bedtime, or do you help your child regulate and listen to their body when it comes to sleeping? Vacations, camps, slumber parties, and all sorts of awesome summer activities can take a toll on kids’ sleep hygiene. How can you make sure your family, as a whole, is keeping up with sleep?
- Set goals and priorities. Kids who struggle with self-esteem, self-doubt, and perfectionism are especially rewarded with positive feelings when they accomplish small goals frequently. While academics are a huge source of stress for many young people, for others, without a daily reward system — whether it’s completed assignments, high grades, or simply being told “good job” — many children find themselves lost in a sea of hopelessness and doubt. What will your children see themselves succeeding at this summer?
- Stay connected. During the school day, many students have a support network helping them navigate stressors in real time, from trusted adults to friends in class. While an adult might call a friend and say, “I’m having a hard day. Would you like to have dinner?” a seven-year-old might say, “Would you like to do the monkey bars?” For so many children and teens, the expectation of summer is that they will have the time, freedom, and resources to FINALLY do what they want to do whenever they want. No more being told not to talk in class, and no more having to rush home for homework. Unfortunately, what often ends up as reality is kids experiencing increased loneliness during summer often broken up by stressful and sometimes dangerous social media communication as their primary interaction. Summer camps and activities are a great proactive response to summer loneliness, but not every kid will have the opportunity, nor will it always be enough.
Is summer break good for students’ mental health?
Summer can be hard on the most resilient of kids and families, but what if your child is already struggling?
- Did your child feel stressed, worried or overwhelmed this school year?
- Did your child have trouble staying motivated or stress about schoolwork, friends, athletics, or something else?
- Did they struggle with procrastination or motivation?
- Did their eating or study habits change dramatically or suddenly?
- Have they become more isolated from their peers or from family?
- Are they getting irritable or having outbursts of anger?
- Are they sleeping too much or too little?
- Is your child eating in secret or avoiding eating in front of others?
- Have they lost interest in activities they used to enjoy?
- Are they in a new relationship or a new group of friends?
If you have seen any of these signs in your child, it is possible they are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder (a not-uncommon response to stress).
For many children and teens, the signs of depression and anxiety may be indirect or seem to be connected to a specific cause. For example, if your child has a falling out with their best friend, their sadness and lack of interest in daily activities once shared with that friend is a normal response. However, if your child’s mood or emotions begin to cause impairment in other areas of their life, they may need additional support in getting through this big obstacle. It may also be that the original conflict with their friend resulted from struggles they were already having, so it’s worth it to check with your child and help them explore how they’re feeling, how they’re managing their difficult emotions, and how you can support them with a listening, empathetic ear.
Giving children access to mental health services leads to better outcomes for them today and for their adult lives. Feelings of attachment, procrastination, bullying, dealing with friendship challenges, and other social challenges can be explored and managed better during these core developmental stages. Intentionally working today to help your kids learn to set boundaries, regulate their emotions, and act in ways that demonstrate their core values helps provide them the strength they need to avoid damaging or even potentially dangerous cycles in the coming school year and beyond.
What are signs of anxiety in children and teens?
- excessive fears about family, school, friends, or activities
- worry about the future
- changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- physical symptoms such as stomachache, headache, muscle aches, or tension
- restlessness or irritability
- fear of making mistakes or being embarrassed
What are signs of depression in children and teens?
- feeling sad and hopeless
- loss of interest in activities that were pleasurable
- changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- listless behavior and feeling fatigued
- loss of concentration
- feeling worthless, useless, or guilty
- thoughts of death or suicide
Summer can also increase disordered eating behaviors or symptoms of eating disorders. We’ll be writing more about this specifically in a couple of weeks, but for now, see this article for more information on signs of eating disorders in children and adolescents.
What are the benefits of summer counseling for kids?
While many families struggle to navigate summer schedules, summer is often the best opportunity to help children and teens of all ages process the stresses of the previous school year and prepare for the upcoming year.
Here are just some of the benefits of summer counseling whether your child has been in counseling previously or not:
- Relieves scheduling pressures: Summer offers children the opportunity to get the most out of every counseling session and process in between, even if you are attending only every two weeks. Responsibilities and pressures ease in the summer for many parents, as well, leaving you more open to scheduling sessions around your schedule rather than your child’s.
- Provides structure to the summer: A regular and consistent schedule of treatment sessions can add some structure to your child’s day and give them a sense of accomplishment. Therapists help children and teens get to know themselves and then set clear goals and objectives to work toward.
- Creates a comfortable routine: Children will have more time and flexibility to attend counseling regularly during the summer, and you’ll have fewer needs for those excused absences. Additionally, building a rapport with a therapist takes time, so if you know that therapy is something that may be a part of your child’s life come August, the summer is a good time for them to establish a relationship with the therapist, set clear goals, and adjust to being accountable to making positive changes.
- Increases social interaction: Summer vacation can lead to isolation and loneliness for some children, but counseling provides an opportunity to improve interpersonal communication and develop general social skills, especially if your therapist offers summer workshops and activities. You can find out more about our upcoming summer schedule on our groups and workshops page.
- Increases emotional intelligence: As Forbes demonstrates, studies show that lifelong success is predicted more by a person’s emotional intelligence than by academic performance. With counseling, children and teens can learn valuable life skills to manage stress and regulate their emotions when faced with challenges.
- Prepare for the upcoming year: Children and teens who have historically struggled in school, even academically, generally encounter challenges with each new year — especially when going from elementary to middle, middle to high school, or high school to college. Building support systems, adapting to new systems, and building resiliency for academic or social struggles the summer before encountering these challenges is one way to help set up students for success. Older adolescents and college students can especially benefit from working with a therapist on interpersonal issues, such as learning healthy relationship boundaries.
We often see an influx of children when school starts in the fall. Summer counseling for children is a great option for anticipating back-to-school stressors that often exacerbate as the school year progresses.Summer is the perfect time to stimulate healing and growth.
What do kids learn in therapy?
Counseling is a good place for kids to learn or practice important skills that will help them succeed in school and reduce distress, including developing strategies to cope with the anxiety that comes along with relationships, social media, and academic pressures. Here are just some of the areas where therapists can support children (and even adults) of all ages:
- Planning and organization
- Navigating bullying
- Handling peer pressure
- Making friends
- Holding conversations
- Sharing with others
- Increasing impulse control
- Concentrating and staying on task
- Showing sportsmanship
- Playing appropriately
- Being flexible/adaptable
- Noticing social cues
- Maintaining proper eye contact
- Following the rules
- Controlling angry outbursts
- Advocating for themselves
- Setting boundaries
- Building confidence and self-esteem
- Solving problems and thinking critically
Learn more about scheduling a consultation with a therapist at The Feelings Healers or registering for one of our summer programs on our website or by emailing one of our licensed psychotherapists.