Summer Survival: Sibling Rivalry, Whining, Messes…

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It’s that time again..summer. Most of us are excited to take a little break from the school routine–waking up early, rushing out to get everyone to school on time, and, worst of all, making sure all of the homework is done. Summer vacation offers a chance for a little bit more relaxation, but it can quickly go from relaxing to reacting if you aren’t careful.

The sibling rivalries: I was playing with that FIRST!!!
The whining: I’m bored. You never let us do anything fun.
The begging: Can I PLEASE, PLEASE go out to the mall?
The mess: Enough said.

So why don’t our daydreams of what summer is supposed to be match our reality? Because we need to remember what our kids really need. In order to help yourself to make it through this summer with happy memories, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Kids Need Parents to Set Limits

So often, parents are afraid to set limits and say “no” because they are afraid that they will not be liked. Being liked is not the job of a parent; keeping children safe is. Kids feel safer when they are given clear and predictable limits from adults. It is a child’s job to complain about these limits. Once parents understand this and are given permission to set limits, children feel safer.

The other day my son had a sore on his lip. He has had these sores on and off throughout his life. He knows that we have medicine that will stop the spread of the virus, but he also knows that the medicine hurts. When I saw the sore, I told him that I was going to put the medicine on it. He screamed and pulled away. Eventually, after trying to reason with him, I tolds him that as much as I did not want to, his father and I would need to force him to put the medicine on because a) it would save him long-term pain, and b) it would protect others from the spread of the virus. In the end, we did need to force him to put the medicine on, and he cried and complained–for a very short time. As much as he protested, he understood the decision that we made. He knew that we were doing it for his own protection.  Sounds logical, right?  So how come most parents are okay with setting a limit that a child needs to take medicine, but they are not comfortable setting other limits? Limits like what they can eat, what they can wear, and how they should treat other people? These limits are just as important to a child’s development as the medicine. The whining and the begging creep in when parents are not consistent in setting limits.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that you need to have very strict limits and I am not saying kids should not make any decisions. Kids need control. They love to make decisions and have their decisions respected. When they make choices, they are empowered. They need opportunities to make choices. But they cannot make every decision. They need to make their decisions under the guidance of their parents.

Limits need to make sense and be consistent, but kids also need to realize that different people have different limits and they need to be able to adjust to that. In school they will have different expectations than at home. They may have different expectations at Grandma’s house than at their own. Kids get this, and it teaches them flexibility.

My husband and I have different parenting styles and different tolerances for certain behaviors. I tend to be more lenient when it comes to messy things. I am more likely to get out the play dough and paint and let the kids go at it. I am also more likely to say “Sure, go ahead” when they ask to splah in the puddles. He would not (okay, now he would because I have rubbed off on him). He is more likely to let them get away with keeping their room messy and leaving laundry on the floor. I am not. But they know that they will have limits. And when we set them, they know they need to listen.

Structure and Routine

Children do best when adults provide structures and routines. Routines work because they are consistent and predictable. Human beings like predictability. That is why schools are structured. Students know what to expect. Almost any teacher will tell you that almost all students do better with structure. In the summer, sometimes that structure and routine goes right out the window, and that can be really hard for kids. Try to include some routine in your summer.

Routines can be built into almost every part of the day. There are wake-up routines, routines for meals, routines for getting ready to go, routines for pick-up, and routines for bedtime. Several parts of a child’s day should have some sort of expectation and structure. This makes it sound boring; it is not. I am not talking about rigid routines and overscheduling activities, merely a framework within which children can have adventures.

Whenever we first introduce a routine, there is often resistance. However, as long as we consistently follow the routine, the resistance decreases. When I first started trying to brush my son’s teeth, he fought tooth and nail, but now that he expects his teeth brushed every morning and evening, he happily runs to the sink (okay, maybe not always happily, but he is usually running to make sure that he beats his sister.) It is not a question anymore; it is a part of the routine. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t ever complain, but the complaining is different–he knows that he is resigned to the task.

One of the main benefits of routine is that they foster independence. The summer is a perfect time to try to teach some of those skills that will make your kids more independent and helpful around the house: putting laundry away, taking care of animals, cleaning up their room in the morning. A friend of mine was talking to me about being overwhelmed by trying to get her children to school on time, so I asked her about her morning routine. She looked at me like I was crazy. Each morning, she gets each of her three children dressed and ready for school, preparing lunches and backpacks. It would take a superwoman to make it on time. Now that it is summer, you can teach the skills without having to rush so much.

So summer begins.  It might not be all that we picture in our daydreams–lying on the beach with margarita in one hand, magazine in the other, with our cherubs happily playing together–but it can be filled with some pretty awesome adventures if we play our cards right.

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