As summer approaches each year, how do you usually feel? Excited for the freedom from the school schedule to enjoy family time or anxious at the idea of finding ways to occupy your children for months without school? For many parents, there is probably a mix of both these emotions as summer approaches. While we may enjoy the break from the typical school routine, many of us are also juggling multiple priorities. Many of us continue to work during the summer, and squeezing in time to enjoy playtime with our children or keep them occupied can be challenging. These competing forces and priorities can often make for a summer that is less than the relaxing ideal we may have in mind.
The Reality of Summer Stress
With the onset of the summer season comes not only warmer weather, but a lot of expectations. Everything from commercials to social media displays a cultural expectation that summer should be relaxed and full of fun adventures for families. For many of us, our summer experiences often do not meet these high expectations of adventure and relaxation. The place where our high expectations and reality meet is often where stress resides. We may go into the summer with ideals of everything being picture perfect, but no family can meet this standard. In the process of trying to meet this ideal, we may inadvertently add more stress to our lives.
Poll statistics support this idea. A recent survey of mothers found that two-thirds want to make summer special for their children but are not sure how to go about doing it.1 Similarly, another study found that approximately 60 percent of parents worry that their summer plans will not live up to their children’s expectations.2 This points to the idea that summer parenting stress is real, but that it partially results from our high expectations about summer plans.
Additionally, a lack of routine or structure during the summer can be a source of stress for both children and adults. Children usually thrive with some type of routine in place. Since children have limited control over their lives in general, routines help them know what to expect and foster a sense of security.3 When the school routine ends for the summer, some children (and parents) may struggle to establish the same sense of structure at home. This can mean that daily times for activities like eating, sleeping, personal hygiene, or recreation may not be as predictable, and this can make life feel more stressful. Irregular sleep times or schedules can be especially stressful for children.4
Tips for Avoiding Summer Stress
We can try to avoid summer stress by approaching the season with intention and keeping our expectations in check. Here are a few tips for making the most of your family’s summer without all the stress:
Avoid Overscheduling: With many hours to fill each day during the summer, it’s tempting to schedule activities for our children to ensure they are occupied. This can inadvertently add stress to all our lives. Between transporting children to different activities or planning for them, the free time we thought we’d have can quickly disappear. Additionally, with too many activities and transitions each day, children can become overtired and uncooperative. They need ample amounts of unstructured play time to develop social and emotional skills as well.5
Instead, try to prioritize the most important activities that you and your children would like to experience over the summer. Add these to the calendar or make reservations as needed. Ensure there are plenty of days with little or nothing planned so your children can just relax or play with friends.
Collaborate with Friends: The traditional phrase that “it takes a village to raise a child” is no truer than during the summer. If all the adults in the family are working outside the home, it can be stressful to juggle child care during the summer. Although camps or daycare might be an option for some families, collaborating with other families can also be a great source of support. If there are other families in your neighborhood or community that you feel comfortable with, consider trading off watching each other’s children on certain days. For older children, playdates with friends can be a wonderful way to pass those long summer days with fun. Older children are often skilled at entertaining themselves with friends while parents can work from home or have teenage siblings supervise younger children.
Prioritize Sleep: Long summer days and a wide assortment of outdoor activities to enjoy means that everyone in the family tends to stay up later during this season. While staying up late occasionally can be fun for children, too many late nights can cause challenges for the next day. Even during the summer months, children need adequate sleep to be able to play and learn well. Most of us know that tired children are often irritable children and this can make the whole family grumpy. Try to keep children’s sleep schedule as close to normal as possible.4 If the extended daylight hours cause children to have trouble going to sleep, try blackout shades to help minimize light in the room where they sleep. The same advice holds true for parents too. Ensuring that you get adequate sleep can support your mood as well, making it easier to be patient with your children.
Lower Your Expectations: We all want summer to be a time of fun and memory-making with our children. However, our strive to make memories and have fun does not have to be a strive for perfection. Family vacations can still be fun (and perhaps even more fun) even if everything does not go according to plan. The same can be said for almost any family activity or outing we might experience during the summer. Generally, children just enjoy spending time with their family, and those moments can be simple and spontaneous.
Make Time for Self-Care: We parents hear all the time about the need for us to care well for ourselves. While this can be challenging at times, it is also crucial to our well-being and our ability to be emotionally present for our children. The summer brings its own challenges to self-care, including balancing work obligations with child care, lack of structured days, and oftentimes travel. With all these considerations in mind, consider small ways you might be able to care for your own well-being during the summer season. Can you find ways to plan healthy meals or fit in a walk at least some days of the week? Can you carve out just a few minutes each day for yourself to do something you enjoy? Self-care does not always have to take a lot of time, but even small moments to meet your mental and physical needs can make a big difference.6
Despite our images of summer relaxation and recreation, sometimes the summer season can bring with it unexpected stress. Between balancing our responsibilities and our children’s needs, summer can feel more hectic than relaxed. This summer, avoid the stress by planning ahead and setting forth an intention to lower your expectations.
The information provided on this site is NOT medical advice and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, provide medical or behavioral advice, treat, prevent, or cure any disease, condition, or behavior. You should consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding your child’s development to make a medical diagnosis, determine a treatment for a medical condition, or obtain other related advice.
- Melore, C. (2022) Heat Is On: 6 in 10 Moms Struggle With Planning Kids’ Summer Vacations, Study Finds, https://www.studyfinds.org/moms-summer-vacations/
- Gervis, Z. (2021) Parents Get Tired of Summer Quickly, Study Finds, SWNS Digital, https://swnsdigital.com/us/2018/06/parents-get-tired-of-summer-quickly-study-finds/
- Bocknek, E. (2022) The Importance of Routines for Kids. Zero to Thrive, University of Michigan, https://zerotothrive.org/routines-for-kids/
- Schreier, J. (2022) Manage your stress so it doesn’t manage you this summer, Mayo Clinic Health System, https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/manage-your-stress-so-it-doesnt-manage-you-this-summer
- Goodwin, C. (2022) Three Research-Backed Ways to Help Your Child This Summer, Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/parenting-translator/202206/three-research-backed-ways-help-your-child-summer
- Penn Foundation (2022) Stress Busting Solutions for Parents: Strategies for a Successful Summer Break. Penn Foundation, Behavioral Health Services, https://www.pennfoundation.org/news-event