Transitioning Into Summer Break Can Be Tricky…

June 3, 2024

It’s Monday, June 3, 2024 and most families either just finished or are about to finish another school year.  The challenges of the past nine months may have been grueling or tedious, but at least they were a known entity that most kids had learned to manage by this point in the year. We all long for the freedom of summer, but it also comes with some unknowns that can cause some worries.

Here’s what I hear from the parents I work with: The kids are excited to be free from the unrelenting schedule, but anxious about getting enough time with their friends from school as many of them go their separate ways during the summer months. They’re looking forward to new challenges offered by camps and summer programs, but concerned about if they’ll find nice kids to hang out with and if the coaches or counselors will be friendly. They’re eagerly awaiting some time to relax around the house, but worried about what usually happens in terms of family bickering when they spend too much time hanging around the house. 

Transitions into new settings are often fraught with expectations that are out of line. Life is, as they say, about expectations. If they’re too high and reality doesn’t come close to approximating those expectations, we tend to be disappointed. If your child had a particularly difficult school year, they may be even more desperate for summer break. Make sure you speak openly about expectations for the summer so everyone is on the same, realistic page.

It requires a decent amount of energy for kids to assess new adults and peers with whom they’ll be interacting during the summer months.  Kids wonder if they’ll be comfortable, bored, challenged, accepted, and respected by the others in their temporary summer community. Compare this to where most kids were as they wrapped up the school year—-they knew all the players, who to avoid, who was fun, and what felt safe to them. 

New routines, new friends, and new settings can be especially challenging for our deeply sensitive kids. Those who take a bit longer to find their place, to open up and get to know peers, or to trust new adults might experience some unexpected tears, separation anxiety, or even some sleepless nights as they anticipate the arrival of summer.

Remember the very helpful tool called “Name it to tame it?” That’s what you can do as a proactive parent if you notice your child acting nervous or irritable during this transition time. You can say aloud to your kid: “What a relief that school is over! But it feels a little weird not to know which kids will be in your new camp group, right? And I wonder which counselor you’ll get this summer?” Or you can ask them: “Which friends from school do you want to make sure you see during the summer so you don’t lose touch with them?” Naming aloud what you suspect might be running through your kid’s head provides a quick invitation for them to even just agree with you by nodding their head. Now you’ve taken the unnamed, the unspoken and normalized it by acknowledging it. 

Before I end, I must mention the topic of sleep away camps. I could write an entire blog post (obviously) just on how to support our first-timers as they navigate the goodbye to parents and the settling into a whole new group of kids in an unfamiliar setting. I will remind you that kids are resilient, usually more so than we give them credit for and certainly more so than us. I will also remind you that this is where distress tolerance on the part of the parent is a real thing. You might want to designate another adult as your accountability partner–someone who knows your kid fairly well. Ask that person to reel you in this summer when you call them to say you can’t take it any more and you’re driving up to Maine to rescue your sobbing kid. The more you can tolerate your child’s distress and shake it off, the more they will be able to tolerate and overcome their own distress. So much more could be said on this topic, but I’ll leave it at that for now.