Popular culture tells us that summer is all about freedom: No schedules, lazy days and endless sun. It's a lovely dream! Reality tells us that life goes on in the summer. There are still schedules to keep and jobs to do -- even if the kids' school is out of session. As such, some families, whether by necessity or choice, have just as tight a schedule in the summer as they do in fall, winter and spring. That can be a fine thing or a not-so-fine thing. Everyone needs some down time from busyness, and over-scheduling is a risk any time of the year.
If your family schedule is just as insane in July as it is in January, you may run the risk of over-scheduling your child's summer. Your child may have chosen to do swim team and baseball and summer school and volunteer -- but where's the downtime? Where's the recharge time? Kids need it too!
Look for Signs of stress
Barring your child just plain telling you, "I'm stressed out and feel overwhelmed," you may wonder how you can tell if your child is over-scheduled in the summer. The symptoms are pretty much the same at other times of the year.
- Poor sleep: Changes in sleep patterns, whether sleeping less than usual, sleeping more than usual or having a more difficult time falling asleep, are classic signs of stress. Try resetting the evening sleep routine first, but if the sleep changes are still there, look deeper.
- Anger and mood swings: It might be easy to put off a temper to not enough sleep, but with sleep changes also a stress symptom, it could be more than that. If you previously even-tempered child is suddenly barking at her siblings or crying at the littlest disappointments, look for patterns in when it happens to possibly find the source of stress.
- Changes in appetite: If your child suddenly doesn't want his or her favorite summertime treat or starts overeating, take notice. Appropriate nutrition can help manage stress, so appetite changes could compound the problem.
- Physical symptoms: Physical complaints such as headaches, stomachaches or even the indeterminate "feeling yucky" could be actual illness -- or they could be signs your child needs to slow down.
- Other behavioral symptoms: Bed-wetting, fingernail biting or other "nervous ticks" may show up out of the blue, or return after a long absence. The term "nervous" often is used with the behaviors for a reason.
If you notice that your child is exhibiting stress symptoms and you think summer over-scheduling is the culprit, try to take something out of the schedule. Maybe swim team plus baseball is too much. Yes, your child might be disappointed in the short-term, but too much is too much. As a parent, you get to guide these decisions. Find other ways to take the activity level down a notch or three or four and spend quality time together as a family -- doing absolutely nothing.
Even if your child is tightly scheduled by family-schedule necessity, there are ways you can bring the stress level down at home for your child. Find ways to create downtime in a day so all of you aren't going from one thing to the next to the next.Find that summer feeling
Summer is a feeling as much as a season. Look for ways to create the feeling of summer whether the schedule is packed or non-existent. You can define small family traditions such as ice cream out every Friday night, or Sunday afternoons doing nothing at all. The school year will start up again soon enough and the schedule may be even busier! Your child needs to find a little recharge in the season -- so if your child is overscheduled this summer, pull back as much as you can and give the whole family a break.