The Secret to Staying Sane During Summer Break
The end of the school year is insane with activities, sports, tryouts, games, galas, meets, prepping for our trip, birthdays, anniversary, Mother's Day, and I'm going to stop now before I have a meltdown just thinking about it. We all go through those periods of extra busy (because we are always normal busy, right?), and we can burn up like a dying star approaching super nova. That doesn't serve anyone, so there has to be a balance. We start looking forward to summer BREAK, because we are going to get a break...right?
Once upon a time summer break meant a much-needed slow down. No schedules, no rushing, no racing to get anywhere. Casual days of maybe going on a hike or to the pool or letting the kids play outside with friends were a nice change from the fast pace of the school year. Last summer that changed for us because my kids have reached the age that sports have become more year-round. We have soccer practice, summer dance intensives, swim team, trips, and if I have the energy for it, something fun. Summers have become busier and more stressful than the school year.
Even if your kids don't have summer sports, having them all home all day can be a lot of work because there is a lot of pressure to entertain them, to make summer break special and memorable, to do something exciting and amazing with them every day because Pinterest says that's what good moms do. I'm going to say it here and now, you do not have to make every day of summer a wonderland of fun to be a good mom. That's a lie. Kids can, and should, entertain themselves and work those imaginations. Not only that, if we are being honest, fun is a lot of work, and fun isn't always fun. Taking 6 kids to the pool is stressful as I constantly count heads and make sure no one has wandered off or gone under. Packing us all up for a simple morning hike with waters, lunches, sunscreen, hats, the right shoes, etc., is an event. Staying home and having to feed the kids lunch, the extra messes they make being home all day, and the extra noise can take a toll the nerves. No matter how you work it, summer break isn't a break for moms. We just tell ourselves that because we are so stressed about school.
Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my kids. I'm grateful to be a mom. I'm grateful to be a stay-at-home mom. That doesn't change the fact that being a mom is work. It's a job. The hardest job. The job that never ends, never has sick days, never has vacation days, never has a quitting time, never has a moment off. No matter how much you love something or someone, it can be hard. Summer break is hard, and I have the secret to staying sane during summer break, and it makes it better for everyone, including the kids.
When my kids drop naps around age 3.5, we switched to quiet time, and even though my oldest are 10, we all still have quiet time every day that isn't a school day. Weekends, holidays, summer breaks, and any day that they are off school, they know that we have quiet time every day. Sometimes the day is really full, and quiet time has to be shorter like 30 minutes, but even those 30 minutes give us all a chance to recharge and have a break from everything, including each other.
With quiet time built into the schedule, the rest of the day goes so much better, we are all less tired and cranky, and we are ready to finish the day on a nice note instead of a tired, worn out, hot, cranky note. It also gets my kids out of the sun during the hottest part of the day. My kids are voracious readers, so getting them to read is never a problem, but if your kids need some encouragement in this area, this is the perfect time to help them get that extra summer reading time in. Another great benefit of quiet time is that when an older kid who has outgrown nap time really needs a rest or nap, they can be very offended by and resistant to that idea. If you say that it's quiet time, just like every day, they go like they always do, and if needed will drift off to sleep for the extra rest. At the very least they get some down time, and that always helps.
You might be wondering why kids who play all day need a break. For kids, even little kids, playing IS work for them. It's how they learn. They need a break from their jobs.
I have built quiet time into our schedule every day, but it is flexible based on their ages, the activities of the day and how tired people are. It can be as short as 30 minutes and as long as 1.5 hours, and it can be different from day to day based on activities and how tired people are. Our average is an hour. It usually starts at 1:00 or 1:30, which is right after lunch because I already have everyone gathered and I don't have to track them all down again. All the kids go to a quiet spot, usually their beds, take a book and read quietly in their spots. Kids that are too young to read can take a picture book or 1 quiet toy, but they have to stay in their rooms or on their beds. Sometimes they fall asleep if they need it, but that isn't the purpose. Some of my kids who share rooms can't stay in the same room for quiet time without talking and playing with each other, so I send one to a different spot to read. It might be the couch in the family room or a comfy chair somewhere. Everyone goes to the same spot every day. They love to take their blankets and wrap up for their reading time.
All the questions
What if my kids hate reading?
This can be a chicken and egg thing. The more they read the more they will love it but how do you get them to read in the first place? One suggestion is regular trips to the library to let them choose interesting and exciting books that they like, even if it's books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Pokemon books, or Minecraft books. Reading ANYTHING will improve their skills and love of reading. It doesn't have to be A Tale of Two Cities. Letting them CHOOSE what interests them, and the excitement of a trip to the library are great incentives. Even if you think it's dumb. I think Pokemon and Minecraft are so dumb, but my kids are crazy for it and read super thick books about strategy. To each his own.
Another incentive is promising to let them see the movie version when they are done. This won't work on everything, but it works on a lot of great books like Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and lots of other classic books that have been made into movies. Then you can start those discussions comparing books and movies. For young readers/non readers, Scholastic Books has a collection of short shows of 100 classic books, and my kids loved those. For your kids with early reading skills or who are too young to read you can promise them one of these episodes after reading the book or staying nicely in quiet time. They have titles like Where the Wild Things Are, Harold and the Purple Crayon, The Mouse and the Motorcycle (a particular favorite in our house), and a lot more. You can find the collection and see a full list of the stories included here. They are all short, 10-15 minutes long.
You can have Fridays be special and different and let them watch the movie of their choice for quiet time as an incentive for those who cooperated the other days of the week. I tell my kids they have to all agree on a movie or we won't do it.
I know someone who pays their kids for reading and calls it the Summer Reading Club. They get paid based on the number of pages (anywhere from $.50 to $4.00 for the 600+ page books), and they have to be books they've never read. They keep the list all summer and get paid at the end. Then they can go buy something fun. This option would bankrupt me since my kids read a lot and read long books, but it's another option to think about. Instead of money it could be earning points toward an outing or prize. Kids love stickers and dollar store stuff. My kids will work for a park outing, a picnic, or a day at the pool. They could also work toward a bigger prize at the end of the summer based on their points like a day at a local amusement park. My kids will even work for a ride to the dollar store or Target to spend their own money. There are lots of options that work for any budget.
You can make a reading chart that they get to put a sticker up for each day they read or for each book they read.
What if we don't have time for quiet time that day?
It happens. Sometimes the day is so packed we really can't do it. On those days we have quiet time in the car coming and going to the various places. I remind them that we are on our way to ________ fun thing, and in exchange they will all be quiet and have quiet time while I drive. They usually bring books to read in the car. If they struggle with motion sickness, I have a simple cure here. You could even turn on an audio book.
What if my kids fight me on it?
Ultimately you are the parent and have to lay down the law. I like to offer incentives instead of consequences, but sometimes they choose consequences. Don't let incentives turn into bribes or extortion. What's the difference? If you are offering incentives, you are in control. "Everyone who cooperates with quiet time all week gets to watch a movie during quiet time on Friday instead of reading in their rooms." If you are bribing or the kids are extorting, then the kids are in control. "Will you stay in your room if I let you watch a movie on Friday?" Huge difference. Consequences can be the loss of privileges to have friends over, play outside, ride bikes, or giving extra chores, etc. I'm not above locking their bedroom doors. Of course, I'm right there close by. I can hear everything going on in their rooms, and they are 100% safe. I'm not leaving the house or even that part of the house. I just don't do the constant coming in and out and fighting and negotiating. More incentives that my kids love are trips to the dollar store to buy bubbles or toys, family bike rides, extra privileges, having friends over, or going somewhere fun like the pool or park after quiet time is over, etc.
Setting the timer is important. They know there is an end. They know how long it is. They can hear the timer and come out on their own. Keep it a reasonable length of time. It can be different amounts of time for different kids. If your younger ones need a longer quiet time, that's what they get. I wouldn't advertise it to the little ones, but you can let the older kids have their own vibrating timer in their rooms and make sure they understand that when they come out they are to be quiet or go outside so they don't disturb their siblings who are still resting.
Tone and attitude are really key. If you treat it like a punishment or act like it's what you are waiting for all day, then they will hate it and fight you every day. Treat it as just another part of the day, and also speak positively of it. Talk about how much you love quiet time so you can read your favorite books, relax, and take a break from the day. Talk about how much better the rest of the day goes and how great you feel when you get a chance to rest. "Guess what guys? My friend told me about this great thing their family loves and we are going to do it here. They get special quiet time every day to take a break from the hot weather and from each other. They get to read their favorite books they got at the library that week. I can't wait to pick out some new books to read. Are there any you've been wanting to read?" Ask them about the books they are reading and what their favorite parts are. "How far have you made it in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone? Oh that's a great part. Some of my favorite parts are coming up still. I can't wait until you get to those." You can also read the same books if your kids are getting to that age. I might re-read Harry Potter this summer when my 9-year-old reads it, and Anne of Green Gables with my 10-year-old, and we can compare notes.
Always offer choices to get kids to be more cooperative. Let them choose books at the library, let them choose which blanket and/or stuffy to take with them. Let them choose the bed or a cozy spot on the floor. You can let them choose what time, now or in 10 minutes? On a difficult day even let them choose how long. "Do you want to reads for 45 minutes or 60 minutes?" The more control they feel, the more cooperative they are. Always.
Can't they just watch a movie or show for quiet time?
That doesn't work at our house. We really limit their screen time at home. No TV on week days, and only a little on Saturday mornings so my husband and I can sleep in (and by sleep in I mean 8:00 a.m.). We do family movie night on Fridays. We've noticed that our kids' behavior goes downhill quickly if they watch much TV or play video games, even if they are the most wholesome, uplifting shows ever made. Something about watching those flickering screens changes them. We stay away from it as much as possible (and it is possible). If we let them watch TV for quiet time, they behave worse after. The more they do it, the worse it gets. This defeats our purpose.
What do I do during quiet time?
I used to use this time to get stuff done, but I realized a few years ago that I was burning the candle at both ends, and my health was paying the price. I started having my own quiet time, and it has made so much difference. I even do this during the school year when 5 out of my 6 are at school. I go to my room and usually lie down for 10-20 minutes with my eyes closed. I might drift off briefly to have a power nap, but even if I don't, I feel so much better. In fact, these short rests make me feel better than an actual nap. I wake up from long naps feeling groggy and grouchy, about 3 hours later I'm wired, and then at bed time I can't sleep. During my rest time I sometimes listen to a guided meditation app on my phone, and those are great if my mind is really wound up. After my short rest, I read a book or watch a show I want to catch up on. Whatever I do, it has to be 100% pleasure based. I can't read a cookbook to plan the week's meals or a book to study and learn something, even if it's about a hobby I enjoy, and it can't be researching places to go for an upcoming trip. It has to be both mentally and physically restful. My favorite book genre is historical fiction, followed by suspense/thrillers. It used to be hard for me to stop and take a break, but now I look forward to my quiet time.
Quiet time really is a simple concept and can be whatever you make it. This is what works in our family. It makes summer break so much better, and we are all happier and enjoy each other so much more after a little break everyday.
Is summer break hard for you? How do you handle it?
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