UAB’s Dayna Watson, Ph.D., recommends four ways to help keep children’s mental health in great condition once the final school bell rings.
Summer can be filled with fun and quality time, but it can also be a time of worry and frustration for parents and caretakers. Dayna Watson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education, recommends ways to help keep children’s mental health in check this summer.
Keep a routine
During the school year, most families maintain a routine throughout the week. The transition out of school and into summer can be triggering for some kids. While a strict structure or schedule may not be needed for all families, Watson recommends easing the shift by making slower changes to the routine once school lets out.
“A predictable rhythm and routine can help reduce stress and anxiety for kids,” she said. “Consider keeping a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, making regular meals a priority, and instituting some daily activities or chores.”
Watson says having a visible family calendar prepares children for transitions, and parents should discuss upcoming changes.
Have down time
Summer is a great time for activities and trips that could not be taken during the school year, but time for rest also needs to be scheduled in. Watson recommends resisting the temptation of overcommitting.
“Our physical and mental health are closely linked — it is nearly impossible to have good mental health when we are not taking care of our bodies,” she said. “It is tempting to try to squeeze in as much fun as possible, but not having sufficient down time can cause parents and kids to end up exhausted and overstimulated.”
Maintain interaction with other children
Depending on a family’s plans for summer, kids could end up feeling isolated or lonely. Consider healthy, safe ways for kids to interact with peers. This could include:
- phone or video calls
- in-person gatherings
- camps and social events
- video games
- other types of social media technologies
“If your kids are going to be on social media or other electronic communication platforms, be sure to have safeguards in place to ensure that they are only able to access appropriate content, and have regular talks about cyberbullying,” Watson said.
Keep an open line of communication
During the summer, children may be spending more time with parents or family members and that can be a great time to invest in or focus on mental health.
“Connection and communication are the two best ways for parents and caregivers to invest in their kids’ mental health,” Watson said. “Be open in discussing your emotions with your kids (in a developmentally appropriate way), talk about how the family can take care of their bodies and minds, and spend time connecting and having positive interactions.”
For older kids and adolescents, ask direct questions about their mental health.
“Avoid trying to give advice or solutions; rather listen to what they have to say and validate their experiences.”
If a child expresses any concerning emotions or seems to be struggling, Watson says to reach out for professional help.
For information about affordable counseling for children through UAB’s play therapy room, call 205-996-2414.