If the words "summer vacation" are throwing you into a panic, you are not alone.
The pressure to pack in the most fun possible is real. Friends on social media seem to make frequent trips to exotic places, and in clean, coordinating, outfits, no less. Pinterest shows us 101 creative ways to use pool noodles or “easy” summer luau parties we can host. We’re flooded with grand ideas for improving our kids’ minds and bodies.
Even if we’re on board with family trips and activities, there are more than a few roadblocks that leave us unable to make a move.
Read on for simple strategies to help you tackle the roadblocks and finally enjoy that laid-back, free (or cheap) summer you’ve been hoping for.
Roadblock #1: No budget!
New Direction: Take the Scenic Route.
Who says summer vacation has to involve mouse ears or a princess castle? You can make just as many memories in your own backyard or around town.
First, get the kids on board. Lay out a road map for a simpler summer, putting the focus on one main family activity that’s in your budget. Then, make the fun decisions together — if you’re camping, where will you camp, and what activities will you do? If you’re staying with relatives, can you sightsee along the way? If you cansplurge, will your family opt for a waterpark or a baseball game?
Then, brainstorm all the extras.
Write down ideas, and challenge older kids to think of budget-friendly options. Commit to checking one or two things off your list per week — or more if you’re able. Find a creative way to track the fun things you do this summer, and as you reach the end, your kids will have plenty of exciting memories to share with their friends.
Roadblock #2: No Time!
New Direction: Take a Detour.
If summer seems like a full-time job at your house, it’s not just you. Between schlepping kids to camps, activities and swim lessons, there’s barely time for your actual job, let alone a lazy day or two.
If the season seems to be slipping by too quickly, it might be time for a detour.
Start by simplifying. You need a vacation as much as your kids, so plan for laid-back meals and try to knock back some of your responsibilities — for instance, get around cleaning and lawn care by hiring it out for the summer, if possible.
With a shorter to-do list, you’ll be able to be more present with your family when you do have time together.
Help your kids simplify too, by not signing them up for every single activity that crosses their path. Schedule “down” days or weeks. If your kids already have too much on their plate, there’s no shame in canceling something — even if you lose your deposit. Research shows boredom is good for kids, and it could be what they need.
Guard any unscheduled time you have. Be choosy about what you add to your schedule. The pool party your friend wants help planning may sound like a great idea, but if it’s going to ruin your week as you scramble to find the right tiki torches and turn a watermelon into a shark sculpture, pass.
Roadblock #3: All They Want is Their Technology!
New Direction: Pack Light.
What if your kids think summer is synonymous with video gaming or constant Instagram posts, despite your best efforts to get them off the couch and into the backyard?
Your solution is to pack light and leave the gadgets behind — mostly, anyway.
Going totally screen-free for the rest of the summer probably isn’t realistic. Instead, put limits on their usage to give their minds and bodies a chance to develop. It won’t be as bad as you (or they) think, and you can start off on the right foot with a few guidelines:
First, make a daily plan. Include each child’s family responsibilities, and then the type and amount of media time they’re allowed. Be specific about safety issues and video game and movie ratings, too.
Then, to save your sanity, implement When-Then Routines: “WHEN your family jobs are complete (and I’ve checked them), THEN you can enjoy your technology time.”
Include media-free time for yourself as well, and set media-free zones. Finally, make sure everyone understands what’s required for media time, and then stick to it.
With this plan in place, you’ll ensure your kids have time for a real summer vacation — even if they’re not very enthusiastic at first.
But there’s a strategy for that too: Don’t get angry or argue back when they demand their technology. Instead simply walk away, leaving them negotiating with an empty room.
Cue the sirens and flashing lights: Your kids may get bored this summer. And that’s a good thing — boredom encourages kids to try new activities, communicate, lead, create, daydream and so much more.
If your kids are used to filling all their time with screens, though, they might need a push when it comes to finding activities to do. Create a “bored jar” with activity ideas kids can draw out to help get them started. And dig out board games, craft supplies, books and outdoor toys to spark their interest.
Still hearing complaints? Just mention all the jobs you have around the house that could help them keep busy, and they’re sure to find something else to occupy themselves.
It may take some patience, but your kids will eventually get used to all their free time and truly enjoy the rest of the summer.
Parenting coach Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. Learn more about free parenting training with Amy.
This article was originally published in June 2018.