Parenting

The Parent's Guide to Surviving Summer by Sandie Johnson

The temperature is 70 degrees. The sun shines bright on this Saturday in June. The day is so gorgeous, you just have to be outdoors to enjoy it. Maybe a run by the lake, maybe do a little yard work, maybe walk to the neighborhood coffee shop and browse the thrift shop next door….

But wait. Oh yeah, there are those two kiddos that happen to be yours that just got out of school. And they have soccer games and a birthday party and have been begging to go to Dave and Busters, and seem to whine anytime they get a little hot, or the sun is too bright, or the breeze is too strong, or their sandals get sand in them, or their sibling starts to bug them. Yep, it’s summer alright.

The introduction to this article may sound a bit cynical to those parents who have one child or who have children who never whine, but for the rest of us, there is at least an element of truth in the picture that is painted there. So here are the top 10 ideas for how to survive this summer without becoming a referee or pulling your hair out.


1. Create a calendar: Kids can see what is coming up in a few days, a week from now, in a month, and how long summer really is. You can determine if counting down the days of summer helps or if it just makes everyone more anxious about the looming spectre of the return of school. Maybe create special days like “backwards day” (eat dinner for breakfast and vice versa, wear clothes backwards, etc.)

2.  Make an agenda every day on a white board where the kids can see for themselves everything that is happening.  For example: 9 a.m.-- get ready for the day; 9:30 a.m.-- trip to the library Noon-- lunch.

3. One hour of “free” time:  Give your child time with nothing to do, so that he/she can create his/her own activities. This space gives the child time to be creative and even learn how to manage time if he/she has only an hour. If your child needs inspiration, you may help them create a list of what they have wanted to do during the school year, but didn’t have time for.

4. Alone time: Create space for your child to spend time alone. Some parents call it “quiet time.” This time should be for reading and/or listening to music. If the child hasn’t slept well the night before, it may be a time to take a quick nap as well.

5.  Limit screen time to one hour or less a day. This idea may mean keeping phones and devices in a common space where everyone can be kept accountable. Consider limiting your own time on your phone or computer.

6.  Create separate playdates for siblings so that they get some independence from each other, which may not be as available during the school year.

7.  Keep a regular bedtime-- even if it’s a little later than in the school year. Kids don’t enjoy even the best things when they are tired. If you allow them to stay up until they say they are tired or want to go to bed, they will be cranky the next day, even if the day is filled with unicorns and whip cream.

8. Get outside! Even kids who complain about being too hot need to be outdoors every day. It has been shown to boost a person’s mood to be in nature for 15 minutes every day which proves that even just a walk around the block might be a cure for some grumpies.

9. Behavior system: If you have behaviors that you want to see more of, reward them. Keeping track with stickers is one way to keep track, but just verbally affirming your child when you see something you like goes a long way. “I noticed how kind you were to your brother a few minutes ago. I like that.” Here’s an example of how to keep track:

10. Swap babysitting-- If you have friends whose kids get along with your kids, no matter the age gap, arrange to watch their kids while you go out and have them watch yours while you go out.

So leisurely browsing at a thrift store with a latte on a Saturday morning may be a thing of the past for now. But finding your groove may be easier with some of these ideas.  Happy Summer!


The Generosity of Youth By Sandie Johnson, LCSW

In this season of gift giving, there is much emphasis on a child’s reaction to the holidays and their gifts. I remember my own kids’ excitement when they opened a gift that they thought was “so cool.” I felt joy, just seeing them feel joy! After all, Christmas is about the kids, right? It’s about seeing their faces light up when someone gives them a gift or they have a new experience. I’d like to challenge that notion by suggesting that the joy that I experienced watching someone else receive a gift that he really wanted, is a joy that children should experience as well.


So how do you get young ones to think about someone else? Children can be self-involved for very good reasons. They are figuring out how to get what they need through practice: asking for it over and over again, sometimes in more gracious ways than others. However, there are several ways that we can encourage kids to look beyond themselves to be generous in order to experience the joy of givingFirst of all, building a child’s empathy for others is crucial. There is no better way to get out of being self-focused than trying to imagine what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. Seeing strong emotion in movie or book characters and asking your child, “How do you think that person is feeling?” prompts empathy. It can even happen with siblings or strangers and then awaken a sense of generosity towards them.


Furthermore, noticing a child’s generosity will reinforce it. Children can be naturally generous,  especially if they are with someone they want to please. Even though there may be self-centeredness entwined in sharing their cookies with a friend, noticing and remarking on it can help the child feel validated when they are doing something that might feel a little hard. When given positive attention, an action that is hard may take on a brave or courageous quality. Then that feeling of bravery becomes associated with generosity and the nobleness of generosity is highlighted for the child.


In addition, your own attitude about generosity is one of the biggest influences on your child’s propensity to be generous. If they see you extending yourself to be helpful to others, giving to charitable organizations (not just at holidays), and practicing kindness in small ways, they will follow your pattern and see these acts as a healthy habit. Having moments everyday when you excuse a mistake that is made or acknowledge a server’s work in a restaurant will communicate an attitude of generosity, not just an act of generosity.

An example of practicing generosity as a family could be to pick a family project that creates a holiday tradition as well as setting a generous example.  Perhaps volunteering at a food pantry, making cards for residents at a nursing home or making cookies for your neighbors could be ways that kids can be involved hands-on in generosity. It will also give you time together as a family, building memories of the times your family shows generosity again and again.

However you encourage generosity in your children, you can count on the fact that when humans are generous, gratefulness arises, and when someone is grateful, contentment is found.  I hope we can all find that kind of contentment this year!


The main ideas in this blog come from “Tips for Raising Generous Children,” an article found on the Childmind® Institute website. (Tips for Raising Generous Children)

Celebrating Halloween Without Creating Monsters By Sandie Johnson, LCSW

I’ve noticed in the last 10 years how much earlier Halloween decorations start to go up now. I saw one family putting them up the last weekend of September this year. The elaborateness of them seems to have gone over the top too.  My favorite was an inflatable ghost that rose up from behind a gravestone and then went back down slowly. Very effective on the spookiness scale.

So how do kids perceive all this? We as adults have a filter that says it’s not real. Small children may see the scary things and be either fascinated or afraid depending on their previous experience. Older children (6 to 10 years old) may experience real fear because of images that they’ve seen and stories that they’ve heard.

Some kids manage the fear and enjoy the startle factor that comes from being scared momentarily. Others make it very clear that they are afraid and upset by the images and can tell a parent that they don’t like looking at a certain decoration. The third category of children are the ones who feel afraid internally but can’t express it for fear of looking “like a sissy.” These children often have older siblings that they are eager to impress. When left alone with those feelings of fear these children may have their fear come out in other ways. They may have a meltdown over having to go to bed. Or maybe they become resistant to activities that are normally fun for them to do.

As a parent, you can handle all three of these scenarios! First of all, know your child. If there are experiences that predispose your child to anxiety, count on the fact that Halloween is a stressful season for them. No matter how many times you say, “It’s not real. You don’t have to be afraid,” they are still going to need time to process their feelings, either verbally or just through play. Provide downtime leading up to the holiday as well as on the day. When trick-or-treating, for children 5 and under, I would recommend only going to houses of people you know and keep it to 30 to 45 minutes. Little people will be overstimulated by any more than that.  For older children you as the parent can set up the structure of the evening so that expectations are clear about how long you will go door-to-door, how much candy they can eat and what time they have to be in bed. Afterwards, process what they saw by asking questions like, “What was the scariest costume you saw?” or “What was the high and low of the evening?“ Having time at home before they go to bed where they can play or read is the ideal to give them some space to process on their own.

However you do it, check your own expectations as well. Are you trying to create an experience for your child that you didn’t get? Are you being as creative as you can with the costumes to impress another family? If you’re focusing on your child, even if they want to wear a garbage bag as a costume (yes, that really happened) you’ll be able to enter into their excitement and enjoy the holiday with less external pressure.

Happy Halloween!