With school complete and summer in front of us, there can be a moment of dread when we realize that the three to eight hours a day in which the kids were occupied and supervised by others during the school year are now our responsibility again. Some of us will send the kids to camp. Others will do “Camp Mommy/Daddy” or go on vacation. Still others will have their children at home “hanging out.” Most will do some combination of these.
Whatever choice you make, summer is a terrific opportunity to encourage kids. As with any of us, kids want to feel like their voices are heard and that they are capable and relevant people. During the summer break, when the pressure and the rigid schedules of the school year are relaxed, there are numerous opportunities for kids to step up and try their hand at things that they normally are unable, or we are unwilling, to let them do.
For example, if you haven’t yet planned a family vacation, or you would like to take the kids on a day outing, you could take the opportunity to involve the children in the decision making. Consider sitting down with the family and brainstorming ideas of where to go. If your children aren’t familiar with what is available, you might ask them about the type of vacation/outing they would like to go on; hiking, boating, activity centers, historic sites, and visits to family are just a few examples.
Once everyone agrees upon a type of vacation, you could offer choices of several places that would satisfy that criteria. Then involve them in the tasks necessary to making that outing a reality. Ask an older child to research how to get to that place, or ask them if they would like to work on it with you. Ask younger children to decide on what toys, snacks, and videos to bring along. In involving the children, you enable them to feel like an important part of the decision, which increases their sense of self-worth. And you also earn the coveted “buy-in” from the kids, which should make the trip much more enjoyable.
Another benefit to involving the children is that they will get exposure to and training in a new set of skills. They will learn how to organize a trip, listen to others, collaborate, research logistics, and plan for necessities. While at the beginning of training the child is more of an observer, soon thereafter the roles switch and the child begins to take responsibility for pieces of the project with the parent as overseer. Before long, the child can do things without oversight. I have a friend whose son, by the age of 13, was savvy about accumulating and using airline miles and took responsibility for booking all the family airline reservations.
Summer is also a great time to teach kids how to assume more of the responsibility for themselves and the family. Children as young as five can learn how to set a table and clear dishes. Children eight and older can start learning how to do basic cooking, laundry, and cleanup. They can learn how to clean a bathroom, sew on a button, spray the table, or make a menu. They can learn how to make their own lunch — a skill that will come in very handy when they start school again. While the objective is not to create Cinderellas, the summer is a great opportunity to enable children to learn how to contribute meaningfully to the family and become more self-sufficient.
Needless to say, training and engaging kids takes a good deal of time. And while it is summer vacation for the kids, it might not be for the parents. Work on one skill at a time and be patient — with yourself and them. And employ your child’s creative brain in decision-making discussions as often as possible. Then watch for the results: the blessing of engaged and self-reliant kids.
By Laura Goldman