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What’s so stressful about summer?


Summer comes with a mixed bag of emotions for parents and children. I even have parents who feel guilty or isolated that they can’t muster up more enthusiasm to even enjoy summer vacation. There is a big sigh of relief that you made it through another year, which can be closely accompanied with anxiety about how you, your child, or the family will navigate the transition to summer. The relief is that school is finally out and we can all look forward to that camp or family vacation we will soon embark on, or do we?

Let’s admit, all that family time, the lack of structure during the day, the push-pull for getting kids away from the screen, and the struggle to keep things structured long enough to make it to September, can be an arduous task for any parent, and especially for your child (yes, it is not easy for your child either).
We often know what our child shouldn’t be doing, but we don’t always clearly understand why they are behaving the way they do. Going from school to summer means kids need a break, so they check out and they go into a bit of a cocoon to re-energize. But too much of a good thing (screen time) will lead to boredom, restlessness, or feeling isolated; mostly because social media paints a picture of everyone else having fun but them, and they lack the motivation (energy level) or confidence (self-esteem) to engage with the outside world. And yes, parents become the ‘chosen one’s’ to bear the blame for the dissatisfaction. You are not alone!

But a second piece might be at work; parents often feel an enormous amount of anxiety and fear about motivating their children and doing whatever they can, while still upholding a full-time job, to keep their kids from falling into the unmotivated or lonely summer blues. A parent’s anxiety can often lead to nagging, blaming, or shaming their child in an attempt to motivate them. For instance, if you start out your conversations with “put your phone down and do something”, “why can’t you…” or, “you didn’t…” chances are your child will defend themselves from the attack (often mislabeled as defiance). This negative cycle then ensues by the child fighting back to protect that lonely or weary part that is being attacked, and ends up in withdraw and shutting down. The unexpressed emotion for your child underneath could be, “They don’t get it, no one does” or “I’m all alone”.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I usually catch families coming in to see me when the cycle of conflict reaches its peak. You’ve had too much conflict for too long, or too much disengagement, and now the anxiety begins to build about school starting up. This summer, let’s literally take a deep breath, (the only thing we really have control over), allow a little more flexibility for decompressing, look to connect rather than direct, and pay attention to our own worry or fear about our child “doing” more or less of something. Instead, try reflecting what you hear them saying and validating whatever that emotion might be. Work collaboratively to get them engaged, and also allow space for them to be independent. Resist the temptation to blame or shame to motivate them. Instead, say something like, “I know this must be difficult for you, and I only want to help”. (Did you notice the word “but” doesn’t exist in that sentence?)

If this summer is challenging for you, and it’s really difficult to break your cycle, please reach out to TELL before things drag on too long. A family session or two can really help you to learn to reconnect, respect each other’s space, and find natural ways to connect with your kids. If your child needs an assessment, we can help you give your child the clarity and support going into the new school year. Hang in there, and do your best to beat Tokyo’s summer heat.

Billy Cleary M.A., LMFT
Clinical Director