By Michele Kambolis, Child and Family Therapist & Author of Generation Stressed
With school doors closed for summer, parents are left wondering just how to make the most of this precious time. While some pack in sports camps and even summer tutoring, others question whether there should be any plan at all. You’ll easily find experts on both sides of the debate. There simply are no hard and fast rules when it comes to finding that summer balance, but finding ways to unwind and recharge top everyone’s list.
1. LEARN ABOUT MINDFULNESS
A life practice of mindful attention and reflection is hands-down the most powerful tool we have to cultivate a family ecosystem of well-being. It also helps kids relax. When we connect through active, open attention on the present and live mindfully, as a non-judgmental observer, we can access the separation, patience and expansive state of being that supports heart-centered parenting. It is the antidote to anxiety. All it requires is sitting and quieting the mind (which is much easier said than done!). Persuading children to sit in contemplation for any period of time can be a challenge. Here is one trick that might help. Invite kids to sit on an imaginary train. Tell them to close their eyes and turn their internal spotlight on the scenery going by. Notice that the scenery is full of images and thoughts about caring for others. Ask them to do a body scan and notice where in their body they sense feelings of love and kindness.
2. GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY: PLAY
With overscheduling and over-focusing on technology, many children have lost the essential, brain-supporting work of play – and play is indeed their work. They are calling on us to show up from a playful, non-anxious and conscious state of being. There is joy in play; where there is joy, anxiety cannot exist. So get down and speak their native language, where toys are your words and play is your palette. If that’s too hard to authentically pull off, try de-stressing together with animal yoga, building a worry wall with sticky notes, or playing a board game.
3. MOVE TO RELAX
Getting busy with our bodies is one of the most powerful buffers from the harmful impact of stress. Summer is a natural time to get a move on. The surge in feel-good neurochemicals not only boosts our immune system, it helps us to feel less stressed overall. Add the great outdoors to the mix and you will have doubled down on the benefits. Studies show we’re happier and more relaxed when we’re in natural environments than when we are indoors.
4. FIND A FURRY FRIEND
This is summer happiness homework most children will easily buy into: spend some time with a pet. One study by Dognition, an organization founded by Duke University researcher and cognitive scientist Brian Hare, found pet ownership to be strongly connected to increased well-being. Researchers found that the act of petting a dog decreases blood pressure and increases dopamine, prolactin and oxytocin, all hormones associated with happiness and bonding, as well as beta-endorphins, which are associated with relaxation and pain relief. Snuggling a furry friend causes a pleasure surge on a par with finding money, eating chocolate and looking at pictures of smiling babies.
5. DISCOVER DOWN TIME
Unstructured down time is one of the greatest gifts (and challenges) we can offer our kids over the summer. It’s when they discover new passions, talents and learn to structure and regulate themselves. Their imagination flourishes and relaxation comes naturally as they find their authentic voice, un-imposed by adult expectations and agendas. It’s a time when children can be in control, relax and maybe even uncover their dreams.
Summer can and should be a time of meaningful, mindful activity, and of repose and reflection. Finding that balance is the key to a summer that is not only restorative for both kids and parents, but provides long-lasting benefits into the new school year and beyond.
Michele Kambolis (MA) is a registered Child and Family Therapist and Parent Educator and a Registered Clinical Counselor dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues. Kambolis writes a popular weekly parenting advice column, “Parent Traps” for The Vancouver Sun and Postmedia Network chain of newspapers. She is also the author of Generation Stressed: Play-Based Tools to Help Your Child Overcome Anxiety.
Coming in September: A parent and child webinar covering all kinds of play-based activities designed to increase connection and decrease stress.