Making Summers Too Easy…Makes Life Too Hard

Yes, it’s been a long year. Everyone is looking forward to a break…a chance to just relax and breathe. And this is unquestionably a good thing. The research suggests that we humans do better when having some time to ‘recover’ from the stress of life. We all know this – NOT because some study suggests this is true – but because we have experienced it!

We yearn for that more easeful, relaxed daily routine. And yes, the children yearn for that as well (at least…most do).

So … What’s The Problem With A Relaxed Summer Schedule?

Nothing. Nothing is wrong with downtime. We all need it.

Here’s the problem, however: We all need structure to thrive.

Some of us need more than others, and this is true for children. The structure is really about a routine and ‘rhythm’ to daily life. It soothes and calms us internally, even though we may resist initially. We see this in the behavior of our children.

Let’s look at how schools and summer camps manage hundreds of children. They do so by relying upon structure and routine. This helps children not only to have a good time and accomplish more, but their behavior is more predictable and calmer in those settings.

Where do children have the most behavioral problems? At school or home? Most problems occur at home where there is less structure.

So the point here is simple: Children thrive on structure and routine. If summers become an opportunity to completely relax these routines, we find that children (and adults) tend to struggle. Not only are we not as happy or motivated, but we develop bad habits that are very hard to correct.

The Rhythm Of A Successful, Happy Life

Let’s go a step further. When we research those individuals who seem to have a full, happy and successful life, we find that there is a natural rhythm to life. This rhythm consists of regular ‘stress’ followed by consistent ‘recovery.’

Similar to how we keep muscle strong, our brains appear to thrive on having some exertion of effort followed by a period of recovery. We could call this “work” followed by “play.”

Either way, we see that children do not thrive if we make life too easy by removing all structure and routine. In the summer this becomes particularly true, as the tendency is to over-value unstructured free time. While this is wonderful in many ways, it can be harmful to your child’s academic success and to support healthy habits.

How so? It’s quite simple. First, we see that most (not all) children lose about 2-3 months of academic achievement during the summers. Imagine, every year…your child spends 9 months to get 9 months of academic progress…and then every summer they lose 2-3 months of progress! In essence, your child is ‘disabled’ each year because there is no academic structure.

It gets worse. For many of you, you know how difficult it is to maintain the daily routines of getting the kids up, ready, and out the door. Summers only make this ten times worse when September rolls around. Many of you have children who will struggle immensely with getting back on track.

The Solution: Don’t Make It So Easy!

I am not suggesting that you set up a boot camp in your backyard. No. However, there is a need for routine. Even though your children will resist, I encourage a consistent, early bedtime with regular morning routines and chores. In next week’s article, I will lay out specifics on how you might think about these summer routines so next year will be easier and more productive for your children.