Ensuring Your Kids Have an Enriching Summer Break

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Summer break for students means spending days outside with friends, making memories with family and taking some time to relax and enjoy being a kid. But the change in routine for some who thrive in predictable environments can also be a bit difficult, especially when it comes to mental health. Come along as we explore how parents can ensure their children have a healthy and enriching summer, thanks to the expertise of Dr. Charletta Dennis, Medical Director for Priority Health and author of Anxiety Unmasked During the COVID-19 Pandemic, A Global Mental Health Concern.

Acknowledging your child's change in routine when summer break arrives is vital, as it has the potential to influence their mental health.

"Adhering to consistent routines provides child development benefits such as learning time management skills, learning environmental expectations, learning organizational skills and task completion skills," Dr. Dennis said. "Disruptions in everyday routines can impact activities of daily living such as grooming, hygiene, eating and even sleep."

Dr. Dennis suggests parents make a point to establish a new daily routine for their children when school is out for the summer.

"Having a dependable structure is important for a child's development," she said. "Structure reinforces that your child will be cared for. It also fosters independence, decreases stress and helps children have fun."

While the needs of each individual child vary, Dr. Dennis says this could be approached one of two ways.

"Opt for a daily schedule that includes everything, from meal times to chores to play time," Dr. Dennis said. "Or, you could take a big-picture approach and make a calendar of what is planned for the whole summer. If your child does better with a list of daily tasks, you could also schedule a cycle of activities. For example, the mornings could rotate between going to a friend's house, going to the park or finding a new place to explore."

If you're not sure where to start, a wide variety of sample summer schedules parents can adapt for their family can be found online. And while summer camps are a great option (and often offer scholarships or financial assistance for those who experience financial limitations), they're not always accessible to each and every family. Thankfully, Dr. Dennis shared plenty of ideas for keeping your children engaged, entertained and learning over the summer months:

  • Visiting your local library.
  • Visiting local animal shelters.
  • Volunteering at community centers/shelters.
  • Checking out your local nature center.
  • Going swimming at a community pool.
  • Visiting a museum.
  • Packing a picnic and going to a playground.
  • Going berry picking at an orchard.
  • Visiting your local farmer's market.

Parents should remain on the lookout for red flags that indicate their child's mental health should be addressed, as mental disorders, like anxiety, ADHD, eating disorders or depression, can begin in childhood.

"If you are concerned about your child's mental health, start by talking with others who frequently interact with your child," Dr. Dennis recommended. "Consider seeking help if your child's behavior persists for a few weeks or longer; causes distress for your child or your family; or interferes with your child's functioning at school, at home or with friends. If your child's behavior is unsafe, or if your child talks about wanting to hurt themselves or someone else, seek help immediately."

You can talk with your child's pediatrician or health care provider and describe the child's behavior, in addition to asking your health care provider for a referral to a mental health professional who has experience and expertise in treating children.

"As a parent of a child who is struggling, it's important to know that you are not alone," Dr. Dennis said, noting that besides getting medical help, caregivers can help their children in other ways:

  • Showing unconditional love. Tell them you are there for them and love them no matter what.
  • Spending time together.
  • Communicating often and regularly.
  • Building trust. You want your child to feel safe.

"When a child has good mental health, they are able to think clearly, make friends and learn new things. They also develop self-confidence, practice making decisions and are able to manage difficult emotions," Dr. Dennis said. "Priority Health is tackling mental health head-on, working closely with our members, employers and the community to create better support and education."

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988, or chat 988lifeline.org to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. If you or a loved one are in need of immediate support for severe emotional distress, contact Priority Health's behavioral health team. Confidential help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The number is printed on the back of all member cards. Priority Health members also have access to myStrength, a self-help virtual tool.

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.


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