We only get a couple months of warm weather and summer fun here in Michigan. Let’s make the best of these long summer days! Summer activities, routines, and events pose opportunities to build mental wellness – but we do have to be strategic. Here are 5 ways you can purposefully build and support mental wellness in your or your loved one’s lives this summer.
1. Power up Social Skills
Social skills are a major building block of resilience and success for kids and adults. Almost everyone can use some social skill building and summer is the perfect time to work on these strategies. Perhaps you or your child need help learning how to engage in successful introductions to new friends, asking others for help, setting appropriate boundaries, dealing with conflict, or either directing play/activities or going with the flow a bit more? Whatever might help increase confidence and success in social interactions, summertime is a great time to hone these skills.
Here’s how to do it – Make a small list of social skills to practice for the summer. Before a social interaction, identify one specific skill. Talk about the skill and role play the skill; ask when and how the skill might be used. After the social interaction, be sure to talk or journal about how it went. What went well? What could use improvement? What will you do differently next time?
Summer camps focused on building social skills are a great way to build these skills quickly and get professionally guided practice with other kids. If your child is entering grades 2nd through 5th grade, you can sign them up for the Boys Super Social Summer Camp. Girls entering 5th through 8th grade can sign up for the Girl Strong Empowerment camp, which focuses on empowering social skill development for middle schoolers.
2. Leverage Schedule Changes to Build Executive Functioning Skills
While it feels wonderful to be freed from the typical school year schedule, after a few days or weeks, kids often become bored and/or irritable, and parents can feel overwhelmed. Adults and kids who struggle with executive functioning may find schedule and routine changes especially difficult. Summer is an opportunity to develop and practice new executive functioning strategies. For instance, plotting out the daily and weekly schedule can help everyone in the household orient to changing routines and expectations. For families, this might include mapping out parent work schedules, who is on kid caretaking duty each day, and scheduled activities such as practices, social hangouts, and camps. However, be sure to mindfully schedule free time! Purposefully put it on the calendar so you or your child knows when a block of free time will occur, and we can look forward to and schedule something fun. If your child or teen continues to struggle with their summer schedule, completing daily routines, or getting stuck when faced with transitions, make the schedule visual – color code different types of activities and include pictures. It might seem silly to do for an older kid or teen – but being able to orient oneself to the day with a brief glance really helps regulate emotions and executive functioning.
3. Mindful (not mindless) Screen Time
As daily routines and schedules loosen up, screens often fill in the blanks. However, increased screen time is typically associated with decreased positive mood, increased anxiety, and increased irritability. Summer is a great time to facilitate insights and skills that increase screen time regulation – set a daily screen ‘allowance’, ask yourself or your kid how this allowance will be ‘spent’, and follow up by asking how it went or sitting down together to look at screen time on a tracking app. If you or your child has trouble conceptualizing their screen time allowance, make it visual – draw a circle or bar graph to represent the number of minutes that can be ‘spent’ on each app or game. To increase insight and motivation to self-regulate screen time, reflect on days in which you or your child used screens more; how do your/their bodies and brains feel? On days screens are used less; how do your/their bodies and brains feel? Kids and adults often both need help developing the ability to reflect on how screens actually make their brains and bodies feel and enacting effective regulation skills.
4. Focused Bonding
Sometimes the adventures we can have during summer are the perfect prescription for family or relationship closeness. Research shows that when families feel close and connected, including strong child-parent communication, bonding time with siblings and regular family mealtimes, kids and teens are less likely to experience depression. Relationship closeness built on shared experience also impacts adults’ mood and anxiety positively. However, the summer schedule can be overwhelming. One trick is to build in small, focused bursts of relationship focused time. This might look like an end of day 10-minute check in with purposeful physical contact, watching a short video clip that’s part of a series 3-4 times per week, or sharing meals together regularly. Building relationship routines that include regular, seemingly inconsequential time spent together, as well as larger adventures will help you and/or your child build resilience.
5. Address Mental Health Issues Now
Don’t wait for mental health issues to go away on their own. If emotional or behavioral difficulties last more than 2 weeks, it’s not a ‘phase’, get real support and guidance. Summer is a great time to start therapy, engage in a short-term treatment plan to build resilience, or engage in a camp supporting mental wellness. We encourage people to reach out before a crisis occurs, so that when difficult situations or events occur, you or your child already have coping strategies in place.