Insight Behavioral Health – Summer vacation is finally here! For some students, this extended break from school is a welcome opportunity to relax, spend quality time with family, and start preparing for a new school year. For other students, the lack of structure and support they have grown accustomed to at school can make the transition to summer vacation difficult. Fortunately, whether your child is an elementary student or a teen, there are many steps you can take to support their mental health and make this summer the best one yet. Here are seven simple ways you can support your child’s mental health during summer vacation.
Plan a Schedule and Stick to It
One of the biggest challenges students experience during the transition to summer vacation is a lack of structure. Although all students benefit from schedules and routines, children who struggle with mental health conditions such as anxiety and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) tend to thrive when they know what to expect and can plan ahead. Schedules do not need to be set in stone or account for every hour of the day, but they should set basic expectations and an outline for tasks, appointments, activities, and other obligations.
Spend Time Outdoors
With long days and comfortable warm weather, summer vacation is a great opportunity to spend as much time outdoors as possible. From the sun and fresh air to physical activity, kids benefit greatly from being outdoors. Bicycling, swimming, sports, free play time, or even a family walk around the neighborhood after dinner are all excellent ways to get out of the house. Plus, time outdoors is a natural way to promote creativity and exploration while limiting screen time.
Make Time for Learning
Summer is a time for fun and relaxation, but it is also important to keep your student engaged mentally and limit learning loss from occurring while they are away from school. This summer, try to incorporate age-appropriate educational activities into your child’s schedule. Visiting a museum or zoo, weekly trips to the library, keeping a journal, doing crafts, and science projects, and exploring new hobbies are all fun and effective ways to promote creativity and limit learning loss.
Think About Screen Time
Whether it is a smartphone, Netflix, or video games, most kids are attached to their electronic devices. While there is usually nothing wrong with these activities in moderation, too much screen time can have many negative effects on an adolescent’s mental health. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology, children ages 8-12 spend as many as six hours a day using screens. Screen time increases to nine hours a day for teens. Excessive screen time is linked to anxiety/depression, behavioral problems, irregular sleep, impaired academic performance, and obesity. This summer, establish limits for screen time, familiarize yourself with the content and social media platforms your child has access to, and remember to set a good example with your own healthy screen habits.
Make Healthy Choices
For many students, summer vacation is an escape from the healthy diets and habits established during the school year. While it is fine to indulge in tasty foods or take a break from physical activity every once in a while, maintaining a healthy lifestyle during the summer months is a key way to support your child’s mental health. Eating more plant-based foods, drinking enough water, getting plenty of exercises, wearing sunscreen, remembering to wash hands, and maintaining a sleep schedule will all help your child have a healthy, fulfilling summer.
Schedule Annual Check-ups
While we’re on the topic of making healthy choices, summer is a great time to schedule your family’s annual visits to primary care physicians, dentists, optometrists, and therapists. During these visits, you should ask your doctor if your child is up to date on vaccinations, if they are meeting the appropriate milestones for their age, if they will need a physical to play fall sports and any other specific questions you may have. This is also a perfect time to schedule future appointments for the upcoming school year and get them on your calendar well in advance.
Monitor Behavioral Patterns
It’s not uncommon for kids and teens to want to sleep more often during summer vacation or to stop doing things they once enjoyed as they grow older. For parents, it can be difficult to understand the differences between the normal ups and downs of life or something more serious like depression. As you spend more quality time with your child over summer vacation, watch for signs like feelings of sadness or anger (even over small matters), loss of interest, excessive sleep or insomnia, use of drugs or alcohol, conflict with family/friends, and low self-esteem. If you suspect something is out of the ordinary, talk with your child, be supportive, and try to determine if they need professional assistance. It’s never too early to ask for help. Depression and other mental health symptoms will not get better on their own, and they often lead to further problems when left untreated.
Summer is a season of fun, relaxation, and time with family and friends, but the transition from the structure of school to long, laid-back days at home can be challenging for students and impact their mental health. Although these tips to support your child’s mental health during summer vacation are helpful, it’s always a good idea to seek the support of a mental health professional if you have any concerns. For more information about our services at Insight Behavioral Health or to schedule an appointment, contact us today.
Q: How much is too much screen time for children and teens?
A: In the past, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended no more than two hours of screen time for children ages five and up. However, because screens are now a requirement for school work and other educational activities, parents are encouraged to develop a plan based on each child’s habits and academic requirements.
Q: How do I know if my child or teen needs help with their mental health?
A: Being present and asking questions without judgment is essential in understanding how your child or teen is feeling. This will also help you determine if they need extra support. If your child or teen is having difficulty expressing themselves or is struggling with stress/anxiety, connecting with a mental health professional will allow them to get the help they need and keep any issues from worsening.
Q: How can I prepare my child for the transition back to school?
A: The transition from summer vacation to school can also impact a child or teen’s mental health. Adopting a new bedtime routine in the weeks before school starts, attending school open houses, helping your child plan ahead so they know what to expect, getting organized, and encouraging a positive outlook are all great ways to smooth the transition.