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Monday, June 23, 2014

3 Tips for Managing Family Stress This Summer

With the end of school brings happy children and parents who hope to reduce their stress levels. However, about one week into the summer, I typically hear from parents who want to know how to reduce the whining and fighting in the household. Here are a few ideas for creating a summer that you’ll actually enjoy:
  1. Add structure to the day: When children have routines, they understand the expectations and can mentally prepare for the day. If you’d like to give your children a chance to relax, consider a loose but predictable structure. Aim for meals at the same time, a chore time, and time planned for other activities. Even though it seems like removing structure might give your children more of a break, complete lack of planning tends to wind up in a complete free-for-all and increases the  chances of meltdowns. 
  1. Target positive behavior: Think about what behavior you’d like to see flourish in your children. Do they need help with teamwork? Keeping their hands to themselves? Sharing? Choose one behavior and create a reward system that’s easy to enforce. My personal favorite is to start filling a jar with cotton balls (one earned for each good choice) and have a family reward when it’s full. Rewards don’t have to be expensive; a trip to the park or family movie night might be treats that motivate. The important point is to give your attention to the positive behaviors rather than waiting for something to go wrong and then course-correcting. Think of your attention like sunlight on plants; are you shining it on the weeds (i.e. negative behaviors) or the flowers (i.e. positive behaviors)? A reward system helps you to stay positive and your children to focus on the behavior you’d like to nurture.
  1. Use electronics wisely: Between TV, video games, cell phones, and tablets, screen time adds up fast! If your children are likely to ask for a screen the moment they’re free, you’re not alone. A little planning can help avoid the struggle by setting expectations early in the summer. Consider a limited time to use electronics, a few days without any screens, or earned screen time for less desirable activities, such as chores.
Consider some structural additions to your summer to make the most out of the summer vacation!

Emily Herber McLean, LPC is a child and family therapist at The Center for Psychological Services.

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