I wrote the following article last summer for a local publication, and now that it’s once again that time of year I’m sharing it here with you!
We’re less than a month into summer vacation – are you feeling like the school year can’t get here too soon?!?
It’s challenging being out of a routine and having all the kids home, and it doesn’t take long for everyone to begin to feel bent out of shape. However, along with the challenge of longer unstructured days together comes an amazing opportunity.
Do you know what the most powerful tool you have as a parent is? The answer is deceptively simple and can be summed up in just a few words: the connection your child feels to you is the most powerful tool in your parenting arsenal.
What do you need to access your parental power and create connection?
Every interaction with our children can build our relationships with them. There is nothing – nothing – more important than building and maintaining a sense of connection with our children. Everything else flows from this core – behavior, motivation, emotional maturity and much more.
By adopting a different paradigm when we look at the noise, mess and crankiness, we can see potential opportunities where previously we saw irritation and frustration. What a gift the summer can be when we realize that the more time the kids are around, the more opportunities we have!
For the time to be beneficial to the relationship, it needs to be positive and enjoyable for you both. Take an hour to brainstorm things you can do with your kids that you’ll both enjoy. Look online for a list of 100 fun summer activities and see how many you can do together. Get your kids involved and ask them for ideas they’d like to add to the list.
When juggling multiple ages, look for activities that will span an age range – like trips to a zoo, water park or even a local park.
However, if your age span is wide, it’s almost impossible to find something that everyone will love. If the younger kids are all content, the older ones are bored and when the older ones are engaged, the younger ones will need a lot more active supervision! The best tip for how to maximize time with kids who aren’t interested in the family activity is to use it to emotionally connect with them – chatting together as you walk or sit together, an arm put around a shoulder, truly listening as they talk (even with all the inevitable interruptions!).
My personal favorite family vacation has been outdoor camping. We’ve done this a number of times over the years with a variety of ages from teenagers to infants and every time, every single person has loved it. This doesn’t work for those who don’t enjoy the outdoors and/or don’t have a car, but there’s an indoor takeoff on this idea that we’ve also enjoyed. Set up a tent and sleeping bags inside for an at-home camp out, making complimentary foods like hamburgers, hot dogs, roasted marshmallows, etc. (This can be done on the mirpesset or in your yard as well.) Minimize your use of electricity and use flashlights at night, turn off the phone and ignore knocks at the door – it’s family connecting time.
Don’t force yourself to do something that you don’t enjoy and don’t let the thought of spending relaxed time with the kids be intimidating – keep it simple and doable. You don’t have to leave the house or plan an outing to have fun. Get some great books and curl up on the couch together for a family read aloud. Gear this towards the older ages and the younger ones will often listen in and pick up more than you expect. If you have much younger children, I’ve found that starting with a short read aloud first; whether they choose to stay snuggled up with the big kids on the couch or to run off and play, they’ll be more relaxed after this time with you.
If learning to do simple home repairs interests you, get your kids involved with you. As we’ve learned to do things over the years, our kids have worked side by side with us on a long list of home projects. Our teenage son recently got his 6, 7 and 9 year old brothers involved in plastering the walls of our mirpesset with him – even the three year old got in on the action! They had a shared enjoyable experience and did a great job.
Involve everyone in a family baking session – even small kids can help add ingredients with your active supervision and it’s fun to eat the fruits of your labor together. Even preparing a daily snack or nightly dinner can be a time for connecting with your kids! Start earlier than you would if you were doing it yourself, and give each child a job. According to age and ability they can peel vegetables, add vegetables or pasta to a pot, and help set the table.
All chores have potential to become connecting time when you work together with your kids in a relaxed way. Being stressed and demanding of their performance obviously won’t build relationships, and it’s critical to keep in mind what our priorities are when we’re trying to get things – relationship first! Again, take more time than you need to get the kids involved. My three year old takes armfuls of sorted laundry and delivers each pile to the bed where I tell him to put it. It’s not efficient but it is effective – he loves doing laundry with me!
To sum up, it’s not what you do with your children that determines the quality of the interaction. It’s how you do it. Supercharge the value of even the most simple activity together by: 1) remembering that each interaction is an opportunity and 2) look for ways to engage your child while doing it, physically and/or emotionally.
As you extend yourself to actively invest in the relationships with your children, don’t forget about taking care of yourself, too. It takes physical and emotional energy to be present for your family members and this can only be sustained if you make self-care a priority. Be sure you’re getting adequate sleep (insufficient sleep makes monsters of us all!), eat regular meals, stay hydrated, and think positive thoughts.
There’s just six weeks left until school starts – make the most of of the unique summer advantage!