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3 Ways to Foster Your Child’s Well-Being This Summer

The past few months have been a wild ride. Our world seems to change by the day, and our family lives have been changed along with it. To boot, the great mystery still exists: What lies before us? Hopefully, the chance to reinvent ourselves, our families and our communities for the better. Here are 3 suggestions for shaking off some of your troubles, restoring balance and promoting your family’s well-being in the months to come.

FREE PLAY

Our kids belong to what is arguably the most-supervised generation to date. They are accustomed to being highly scheduled, and often entertained. Allow yourself not to be an activities director this summer. Renowned expert on play, Peter Gray, describes the value of time just like this in his book, Free to Learn.

Self-education through play and exploration requires enormous amounts of unscheduled time - time to do whatever one wants to do, without pressure, judgment, or intrusion from authority figures. That time is needed to make friends, play with ideas and materials, experience and overcome boredom, learn from one’s own mistakes, and develop passions.

Settle into the idea of allowing your family extended periods of open time without adult direction. Provide your children with access to neutral materials whose purpose they can determine and reinvent time and again. Allow them to make a mess as long as they clean it up. If they have requests that require permission, say, “yes” whenever there isn’t a good enough reason to say, “no.” If you have concerns about a particular activity, express them and invite your kids to help solve the problem. When inevitable boredom sets in, offer presence and support rather than direct solutions. Our greatest challenge as parents can be to stay out of the way, and the current demands of completing professional work, housework, and childcare responsibilities within the same space can provide a prime opportunity for getting comfortable with letting our children just be.

FOSTER INDEPENDENCE

As we find ourselves home more than usual, we are presented with a perfect opportunity for fostering life skills. Consider allowing your children to join alongside you in meaningful and mundane work. It is often in these very ordinary moments that we make our best small talk, and string together the micro-memories that comprise a life lived together. Even a short routine of daily contributions to housework by each family member can lighten our load and promote lifelong self-sufficiency. Rather than avoid having kids participate in household activities with potential for danger, teach them how to engage safely, provide the necessary materials and equipment, and offer the minimum degree of intervention required for safety. Everything from flipping a sizzling pancake to trimming a hedge counts here. If a situation calls for a plan to prevent injury and your child is developmentally capable of coming up with solutions, ask them what their plans are for managing the area of concern. A simple shift from nervous shouts about being careful, to concerns expressed calmly along with an invitation for your child to share their safety plan, moves you from hall monitor/helicopter to supportive collaborator. We sometimes worry about protecting children to a degree that robs them of the opportunity to take risks when the stakes are relatively small. This leaves them to navigate tricky situations later on without real life experience to back them up. In allowing kids to take on important work, we express trust in them, and provide them with critical opportunities to build true confidence.

CONNECT WITH NATURE

Our society has become so future oriented, and nowhere is that exerting a more tragic effect than in the short season of childhood. Kids deserve the gift of being able to enjoy this once in a lifetime, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it opportunity, and there is no better place to live a full childhood than in the great outdoors. Outdoor time engages our attention on a level different from focused, indoor work, promoting both broad attention to our full surroundings and a deep concentration on intriguing fine details. It captures us in a way that gives us relief from our usual thoughts and reminds us that there is something bigger than ourselves. Many of us have memories of spending long hours outdoors in summer, engaging all our senses and using our bodies to their fullest. While outside, we build strength and coordination of large and small muscles and all kinds of confidence, pushing the boundaries of our usual limits. Outdoor activities can easily be adapted to a variety of developmental ability levels and preferences, making them a great source of individual joy as well as family connection. We need few materials if any (a ball, some chalk, a little bit of water), though the addition of a few extra items like a magnifying glass, a small bag to collect found treasures, and a field identification guide or nature identification app can lend depth to any experience. Whether you tend to a small balcony garden, sneak out at dawn for a stroll through the neighborhood with an early rising toddler, or let your big kids stay up late and venture to a finally-empty beach to stare skyward at the stars, find your way out.

Although this time has been challenging, there is still much beauty to be found, much to be enjoyed, and much to be accomplished. Perhaps it was time for a transformation, anyhow. Here’s to getting comfortable with the shift, riding the wave, and looking forward to something better when we arrive on the other side.


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