By: Claire Duarte
One of my favorite things about summer (other than eating ice cream and being with family) is going to the beach! The beach, pool, or any body of water are pretty much my “happy-places.” Growing up, I got to go on my uncle’s sailboat. He would try and teach me the ropes, literally. Though, I was a little incorrigible because all I was focused on was dangling my feet over the edge, or constantly asking “can I jump in?” Looking back, I wonder if my uncle thought my sheer interest in his boat was the same interest that he had. Well for me, clearly I had my own agenda, which was all about “when can I get in the water!”
That’s one clear difference between being an adult and a kid (or teen for that matter!). As adults, we’ve practiced and managed our maturity so that we can focus on the task at hand. For my uncle, because I did not know how to sail, it was up to him to take over that responsibility. As much as he may have wanted to teach me and extend that knowledge - I wasn’t exactly in that place of wanting to learn at the moment.
As parents and teachers, sometimes we get frustrated when our kids or students “lose sight” of the certain skills and things they need to know. Like over the summer: “you still need to make your bed,” or “take your medicine”, “walk the dog”, “do your laundry”... the list can be endless, right? And it certainly can be hard when there’s a lack of follow-through.
I was talking with a mom the other day and she said to me, “I’m a very organized person, but my daughter is not. It’s really frustrating because “I” am not like that.” We hear this a lot from parents who come to us for executive function support. As I mentioned earlier, as adults - our brains are more developed and our hormones are a bit more settled which makes our ability to organize, execute tasks, remember things we need to do, etc., much “easier” for us than our own students and children. I say easier mainly because we’ve likely had more practice and time to work on these skills. Does not mean it’s any less difficult at times, but we’re allowed to play the “older and wiser” card, right?
So how can you still practice executive function (EF) skills and maintain status quo while your kids are at home over the summer?
There’s no magic trick that works overnight, but here are a few tips:
This is very important. Much like having rules or chores, our kids need to know the expectations of themselves for the day/week/month (sometimes even hourly depending on your household!). This could be done by:
Sitting down with the family to discuss everyone’s roles, needs, and to-do’s for the day/week.
Having a family chalkboard or dry erase board to make lists of things that need to be done that day
Creating chore charts - like this one to make those to-do’s visible
Re-visit this conversation each week. Pick a day to sit down as a unit. Which day is best? (Sunday/Monday/Saturday ?) Whichever day you choose, try to make it consistent as possible to again create that expectation that you want the family to meet all together to discuss what everyone needs to get done
2) DEFINE RULES/REWARDS:
Finding what motivates our kids can be really useful in outlining rules, expectations, and implementing possible rewards. Not all circumstances necessary deem punishments or rewards, but sitting down and talking with your kids to find out what motivates & excites them may help improve the outcome. The reward doesn’t have to always be money either! To make it more fun and family-oriented, it could be a shopping spree, ice cream night out, etc. Consequences: losing screen time privileges, nights out with friends, etc.
3) SET NEW BEDTIMES
It’s okay to be flexible over the summer by having a few late nights here or there, but the more consistency you can help to create in your household will lead to happier campers. Having more established bedtimes (for everyone in the house) can help to create more regular sleep intervals. The important thing here is to have a routine in place: rigid routine, flexible implementation. That way, if there is a fun event one evening, you can allow for a later bedtime as needed, knowing that you will bounce back to your regular routine the next day.
Stay busy! Sign the kids up for camp, sports,or take an art class or exercise class, etc. As great as free-time is, having some structure and routine built into the day is really important for kids and teens to be able to keep practicing their EF skills (like waking up, making breakfast, getting dressed and ready for the day, packing lunch, chores, etc.). When you have activities built into your day, it encourages you to use your “down-time” differently because you essentially have less of it.
5) GO OUTDOORS:
Build in time outside. This time can be spent alone on a walk, or playing a game with family or friends but the important aspect is to just get out of the house.Screen time can consume our days and teens especially struggle to regulate their time on their devices, so finding ways to get out of the house and take in some scenery is a great way to change not only your environment, but your mindset too!
I always find summer the most relaxing season to read, perhaps because we’re not as bombarded by the busy school year, but this is also a time where our kids have required reading for school. Try to make reading a part of their daily routine so that they get the work done! Want to make it a family activity? Spend some quiet time each day reading for 15-20 minutes to get it done.
Seeking the support of an executive function coach can help alleviate relational tensions as well as to reinforce skills that are often needed at home. Sometimes, just being able to hear instructions from someone else who isn’t mom or dad can help make all the difference too! This not only allows parents to perhaps get some necessary breaks, but this can also help alleviate tensions in those relationships too.
8) MAKE MEMORIES:
Whether you have vacations planned or not, you do not have to do anything epic to make memories as a family. A way to make this fun and to practice more of those EF skills is to encourage your kids to take lots of photos and videos. Then have them compile either an online album or actual photobook/collage. Or even create a home video using Youtube, GoPro, or iMovie.