Few other phrases carry such a double meaning. For students, it's time for fun and freedom; for parents, it's time to respond in near panic, "What are we going to do for the next three months?"Most working parents anticipated that question months ago, making advance summer arrangements for child care. But at-home parents are hit full-force trying to schedule a summer full of fun during the first week in June.
All parents face the same dilemma - the transition from kids in school to kids on vacation.
Our children have been under strict controls for seven hours a day during the school year, but now we must apply the controls just when our children want their freedom. Is it any wonder that they "fight back" and make the first few weeks of summer vacation more like World War III?
As parents we must provide control in the form of a structured schedule. We should also give our children choices, which reduce parental guilt when we impose the consequences.
WHAT WORKING PARENTS CAN DO: The roughest transition for your child to make is from day care (be it day camp, a nursery or at a friend's home) to evenings at home. Often the child says, "Go away - you've come too early. I just started to play." The situation is only made worse when you have to pull and push that screaming kid into the car. By the time you get home, no one feels like a peaceful supper or family time together.
Parents need to set up a schedule so the child knows exactly what to expect each evening. Start by taking an alarm clock or timer to day care and setting it 20 minutes before you plan to pick up your child. Insist that your child care staff carry through with the timer to help your child's transition from playing with friends to getting ready for Mom or Dad.
Each evening discuss what you plan to do tomorrow after pickup time. Mornings are time to review your plans but not to set new ones. Integrate your child into your activities. For example, "Tomorrow after I pick you up, we need to go to the grocery store and you can help by keeping track of coupons." When it is time to shift from day care to home, your child can anticipate what is yet to come rather than regretting what is left behind.
Remember, even if your child has been in after-school care, the summer is a different time without the structure of the school day. You need to provide the structure now and you need to make good on the implicit "promises" of your new schedule.
WHAT AT-HOME PARENTS CAN DO: Going from total structure to no structure at all can throw anyone off track. Although you do not want to create a school-like structure at home, you must maintain some controls to maintain peace of mind.
Set up two to three daily responsibilities that must be carried out and for which no excuses are acceptable. These daily milestones will serve as the structure - such as "make my bed by 10 a.m." or "practice math facts between 11 a.m. and noon." When you decide to add some extra fun activities, make sure that the basic structure is not violated. Call this your child's "Schedule of Choices." The choice for your child is to have fun or not to have fun activities. If you plan to see a movie, your child's choice is to do all of his daily responsibilities first. If that structure is not followed, then the child is making the choice not to go to the movies.
Action, not promises, is what makes the choice.
Summer should not be a tug-of-war, but parents must substitute family controls for school controls. Let your child know the structure and let her participate as a decisionmaker.