How do you structure an alternative summer with activities your child or teen (and you) can enjoy? These strategies offer the added benefit of helping to improve their executive function skills.
By Carey A. Heller, PsyD
My previous post shared some ideas for developing a summer plan as well as an example of one to help families struggling to replace activities such as camps canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But when you’re developing your own family’s summer plan, it’s important first to recognize what you would like to implement and what you feel comfortable doing. If you don’t want to structure every minute, don’t try to do so.
If you have to work, need a break, or otherwise cannot be available to run activities, it’s okay to take that time away from your kids, assuming it is safe to do so. Allow them to engage in independent activities—including watching television or playing on electronic devices—during portions of the day. You have to take adequate care of yourself in order to be fully present to help your child or teenager.
Whether you wish to structure the whole day or portions of the day, here are some strategies for increasing your child’s adherence and follow-through with the planned activities.
- Involve your child or teen in the planning and give them as much say as is feasible in the choice of activities and when they do them.
- If you have specific requirements (for example: two hours of screen time, one hour of academic review), make that a part of the discussion when you’re planning together.
- Keep the daily/weekly schedule organized in a place where your child or teen can easily view it. Use a shared family calendar, an hour-by-hour table in Google Doc that is also printed and hung somewhere, or keep the calendar in a visual schedule app, such as VisualSchedules or other similar app, based on the age of the child or teen.
- Help your child/teen use automated alerts when feasible to prompt them to move from one activity to the next, especially during times when you will not be present. In general, using these tools will help foster greater independence.
- If they are on the computer during a task (so they will see the alerts) or have a phone, tablet, or other similar device, use alerts from a calendar app such as Google Calendar. Set alarms or use other similar notifications that prompt the child or teen when to finish one activity and move to the next one. While you may want to set up some of the alerts initially or collaboratively with your child/teen, getting them in the habit of setting their own alerts can be really helpful.
Use Alexa, Google Home, or other personal assistant devices to set auditory and/or visual reminders. What is great about these is that kids as young as four or five can likely use the auditory reminders, see the visual ones on certain devices, and even learn to set their own notifications.
If you’re using Alexa, consult their website and app for a full list of things that you can do with the program. A few key items include auditory and visual alerts on all Amazon-related devices (Fire tablet, Firestick, if watching shows or movies on demand).
- Especially for older children and teens, set up simple ways to check in throughout the day. To make it easier if you are working, setting up specific times or during particular transitions (such as after screen time before starting academic time) to text, email, or call may be useful. When feasible, plan to take breaks from your own work for in-person check-ins.
- Incorporate your child’s or teen’s chores and household tasks into the day when feasible. This will help get things done and make evenings less stressful and hopefully more relaxing.
Navigating a summer at home together, especially when that was not your plan or your preference, has the potential to be a great experience for both you and your children or teens. Whether you truly believe this or not, if you have no other choice, why not try to make the best of the situation?
By implementing structure and planning in at least some manner, as discussed above, you can also help your child or teen improve their own executive function skills (and perhaps yours as well, if needed). Remember to do the best that you can, but also take care of yourself. Cut yourself some slack if you feel like you cannot execute a structured plan to the fullest extent that you want.
Carey A. Heller, PsyD, is a licensed psychologist based in Maryland. He specializes in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and executive function issues. Learn more at hellerpsychologygroup.com. A board member for the Montgomery County chapter of CHADD, Dr. Heller also serves on the editorial advisory board for Attention magazine.