Summertime should be a relaxing time for children and parents, but sometimes that is not always the case. Join Summer McMurry, founder and CEO of Carolina Pediatric Therapy as she and Dr. Catherine Funk, PhD, Psychologist and Director of Behavioral Health Programs at Carolina Peds discuss the challenges and stress that can happen when schedules change over the summer, as well as strategies and tips for how to support your child through the transition and before school starts up again. (Listen on Apple iTunes & Google Play).
Ah, summertime. For kids, it can be a time of no homework, more freedom, vacations, and BBQs. For parents, it can mean a break from the chaotic schedule of school, after school activities, and fights with kids around homework. All in all, it sounds like a huge relief in stress. A lot of times families consider summer to be a time when taking a break from services or medication seems appropriate.
However, summer can also be a time where stress and certain challenges such depression, anxiety, feeling socially isolated, and concerns with body image need more attention. Typically, while challenges with mental health can seem less intense with a shift in the stress, some factors about summer can increase stress without families realizing it. Less structure, less frequent social interactions with school friends, and unexpected events can affect one’s mood and behavior. Here are some of the reasons why accessing services during the summer can actually create more effective outcomes for children and families.
- Routine Children and adolescents thrive off of routine. More importantly, children and adolescents dealing with mental health challenges find comfort and success through routines. While school provides a lot of structure and routine across the school year, the absence of it across the summertime, while initially sounds great, can increase boredom and result in disruptive behaviors or mood challenges. Having a regular appointment across the week to receive services can assist in adding structure to the day or week.
- Less Stressed Room to Grow! Across the school year, it can be hard at times for children and adolescents to gain skills from therapy as a result of being overwhelmed with learning at school, experiencing different crises with bullying or social stress, or fitting another appointment into their already packed schedule. Across the summer, children and adolescents might have more brain space to learn the tools at a time when they are not overly stressed. This can provide them with more opportunity to successfully encode and practice that skill so that when challenges come up, they are ready to use it.
- Establish a Foundation Summer can be a great time to create goals, both for the short term summer months, but also for the upcoming school year. Finding a therapist to assist in creating reasonable, achievable goals can build confidence, expand your child or adolescent support team, and promote a growth mindset. Often times, starting a relationship like this during the summer can be critical for then having a support person in place once school starts and stress increases. Often times, Fall can be a busy time with families attempting to access services, so getting in prior to Fall can really help you and your child or adolescent establish a good foundation entering the school year.
- More Openings Many mental health care providers receive a high amount of clients in the fall and may already have a waiting list within the first months of school. Beginning services in the summer makes it more likely to find an appointment time that works with your family’s schedule. Starting in the summer reserves a spot for your child before the busy school year begins.
There are plenty of things families can do at home to prevent a significant increase in stress over the summer.
- Connect to community programs or activities. Find a program such as a summer camp, interest group, or activity that your child enjoys. This will allow them to continue to work on social skills, learn, and increase a sense of belonging in their community.
- Set structure or routine at your home. Provide structure and schedule that works best for your family and child. For example, if your child struggles with having a lot of unstructured time or only wants to do one sedentary activity, such as watching TV or video games, providing them with a schedule of activities throughout the day can prevent issues. Providing your child with choices of activities can also be helpful. For example, telling your child they must do something active, read, and go outside before they can watch TV.
- Make sure they stay active. Exercise is not only great for your physical health but mental health too!
Connecting your child to mental health services over the summer and finding a structure that works for your family can help the relaxing summer time be productive and empowering as well!
Accessing Services in the Summertime
Kelly Jean Tucker, MA, LPCA & Catherine Funk, PhD
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