Summer is almost here, and with it may come the urge to throw rigid routines out the window. Research (and experience) shows, though, that most kids thrive when they have clear expectations and routines, even in the summer months. Parent Ellen Dunlap used to greet each summer vacation with mixed feelings. On the one hand, she was excited to be free of the grind of the school year and able to spend more relaxed, quality time with her son, Ryan. On the other hand, however, she dreaded the onset of Ryan’s summer ‘personality shift.’ “After 3 or 4 days I started to see that he was short-tempered and grumpy,” Ellen says. “Most of his responses had an underlying tone of annoyance and he appeared to look and feel frustrated and uncomfortable.”
As her son got older, the pattern of behavior continued. Each year after the initial excitement about the summer break wore off, her son’s personality would abruptly change. His increasingly surly behavior put a damper on summer fun for everyone in the household. Then, she says, she had an ‘aha moment’: “It took me a little while to figure out the root of his frustration. Although he will argue otherwise, my son really craves the comfort that structure brings.”
Ryan is not alone. Experts agree that while children and adolescents do benefit from the downtime the summer brings, downtime should be balanced with structured activities and clear expectations. While some children do fine without a set schedule, many others struggle with the excessive free time and lack of routine the summer break often brings with it. Otherwise happy and well-adjusted kids might begin acting defiant and downright rude, and you might notice arguments increasing among siblings. Kids with too much downtime also may experiment with risky behaviors and wind up getting into trouble both at home and with friends.