By the end of summer, most parents can’t wait for their kids to go back to school. We asked Jen Nelson, M.Ed., a Community Health Worker at Mental Health Partners, for ways that families can make the most of summer without getting on each other’s nerves.

Nelson stressed that it’s important for parents to create structure. “It can be looser in the summer, but there should be some rhythm to meeting kids’ needs,” she says. “Kids need active time and quiet time, and parents need to think through and plan a daily schedule before they get to the point of saying, ‘my kids are driving me crazy.’”

Spending time outdoors as much as possible, and being physically active is crucial for mental health. Summer is the perfect season for parents to participate with their kids in activities like swimming and hiking. It’s a good time to learn a new sport together such as tennis, golf, paddle boarding, or a new skill like photography. Car camping, backpacking, and pitching a tent in the backyard are the quintessential experiences that foster family togetherness and create lasting memories.

Limiting screen time by creating a contract for how much time a child is allowed to play video games, or be on their phone or tablet is key to not getting into arguments, Nelson says. Having family meetings also helps to avoid conflict around other issues.

Planning several big events that kids can look forward to is a great way to break up the summer and create excitement. Visiting family in a different city, going on a bike trip, or exploring Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, as well as setting up social time with friends at least once a week are some options. “They don’t have to be expensive,” Nelson says. “Camping in the backyard with friends can be a special event.”

“One of the things that’s really important that parents don’t do is to let kids get bored. When people are constantly on the go they don’t have time to be creative and introspective. Allow for empty time every day so it’s up to the kids to create something new. That’s how creativity comes about,” Nelson says.

“Parents who are feeling overwhelmed can seek out other parents for support. Leaning on  friends, family, a babysitter, or creating a pod can help you find time to spend with your partner or allow time for yourself.

“One of the problems that comes up in summer is that kids can get pesky because their needs are not being met. Kids, and parents alike, require healthy habits. Exercise, restful sleep, and good nutrition are necessary, and parents should make sure they’re including those things for themselves,” Nelson says.

“The key is for parents to enjoy time with their kids. Summer is a good opportunity to connect and savor the moments, to expand and deepen that connection.”

> Jen Nelson specializes in supporting children of all ages and their caregivers. She has an M.ED. in education, and M.S. in marriage and family therapy. 

> Mental Health Partners is the only organization providing comprehensive mental health services to residents of Boulder and Broomfield counties regardless of their ability to pay. For more information about anxiety outreach programs for teens and children, and one on-on-one assessment and counseling, call 303.443.8500 or visit: 24/7 Crisis Line: 1.844.493.8255.

By Barbra Cohn, Raised in the Rockies