Strategies for Summer Break 6/12/24

Most people look forward to summer break – vacations, warmer weather, not having to wake up early for school. However, for many kids and families, summer breaks can be challenging because of the change from the usual routine. This is especially true for children and youth with mental health and developmental concerns, for whom structure can be hugely helpful. In particular, structure can help make children with anxiety, autism and ADHD, to name some, feel comfortable and safe, and the lack of structure can leave them feeling uncomfortable and unsafe.

Here are some ideas to share with families to help summers go more smoothly:

Maintain their schedule

While it might be hard to replicate the structure that school provides, it can help to maintain certain parts of the school year daily schedule, including bedtime routines and mealtimes. It is also important to maintain consistent bedtimes for younger children who struggle with going to sleep later and “sleeping in”.

When traveling, consider mimicking elements of the home routine when possible, including bringing favorite foods and toys. Many families find it easier to rent apartments or a house rather than stay in a hotel.

Make it visual

Posted schedules (either written or pictures) can be helpful for children who thrive on routine. It doesn’t mean the schedule has to be the same each day but having a visual of the schedule can reduce the challenges associated with transitions.

Make plans

Keeping in mind parents’ work schedules, it is important to schedule some activities daily if possible for children during the summer time. This helps reduce idle time and the feeling of boredom. The key is balancing free time with prepared activities. Try to focus the prepared activities based on children’s interests to keep them engaged. For example, if summer includes camps, try to pick camps together with children to engage them.

Related to this is the idea of having clear expectations. Children and teens, especially, may act like they want to be in charge of themselves, but in reality, they feel safer knowing exactly what is expected of them. Summertime, with less of a rush compared to the school year, can be a nice time to work on longer term goals and build independence.

Many parents worry about too much screen time during summer months. Dr Ann-Louise Lockhart, pediatric psychologist and owner of A New Day Pediatric Psychology in San Antonio, Texas, recommends no screen time before noon on weekends and holidays, and utilizes the same in her home with her two children. She reports it helps children think about other things they can do to entertain themselves besides screens.

Get outdoors

It is important for children, even with anxiety and/or social challenges, to get out of the house and outdoors daily. Being outdoors is good for the mind and body and can help with getting regular physical activity.

Engage Support

Advise families to not try to go it alone. Whether its increasing professional support during the summer when children have a freer schedule or spending time with extended family and friends, it is helpful to lean other others. In fact it can be mutually helpful for all involved and a way for children and parents alike to enjoy their summers.

We hope these pointers and ideas are helpful as families talk to you about their worries and concerns related to summer.


AUTHOR: Charmi Patel Rao MD, DFAACAP
Co-Medical Director, Vista Hill Foundation
Health Science Clinical Professor, UCSD Department of Psychiatry
President, San Diego Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry


Posted in Blog.