Memorial Day and July 4th have passed, school is out, and it’s officially summertime. The longer days, combined with more relaxed work schedules for many parents, make summer the ideal time to take a family vacation, spend weekends outdoors and generally enjoy some quality time with family and friends.
It’s very important to take advantage of these natural opportunities to accumulate positive experiences with one another. We can think of this as making deposits to a metaphorical piggy bank. These deposits provide a buffer that can preserve relationship health during more stressful times, like withdrawals from a store of good times.
There are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind when choosing family bonding activities:
- Be fair and pick activities everyone will like.
- Give praise freely and make it as specific as you can.
- Make it non-competitive.
- Be flexible.
It can be difficult to pick an activity when you have children in different developmental stages. Younger children are less adaptable to disruptions in mealtime routines, while teenagers are more self-conscious and will prefer shorter activities, giving them more time with friends. Do your best to strike a balance that will keep everyone happy.
Specific labeled praise is often used to shape positive behavior in children, and it can also convey appreciation and promote bonding. Phrases like “That was a great idea to go for a hike!”, “That was a really funny joke” or “I’m impressed that you read your book throughout the whole car ride – you must be really enjoying it,” all show kids that you notice and appreciate them for who they are. The more specific the praise, the more you highlight that you were really paying attention.
One of the benefits of summer is that there isn’t a continuous demand on children to perform. Many children and teens I see for therapy look like different children after their last final exam has passed – you can literally see the relief on their faces! Summertime allows opportunities to engage in non-competitive activities without the burden of being evaluated. It’s not that being assessed is bad for kids, but in our heavily achievement-oriented society, they do benefit from a break to recognize that they are okay just as they are.
Lastly, because things come up – sunburns, bathroom breaks, text messages – it’s important to be flexible with summer bonding activities. The most important part is to make a deposit in the piggy bank, and something as simple as a heartfelt smile can fit the bill.
On a related note, it is interesting that two of the major holidays that signify summer to Americans are days of recognition for our military service members and veterans. Over the past 12 years, we’ve deployed over 2.5 million military members to Iraq and Afghanistan, which means that millions of American families have been disrupted in the service of protecting our country. Military members have a reputation for being particularly family-oriented, and research actually shows that family support and community involvement are key factors that facilitate a positive transition from combat to home. Perceptions of being included and understood by others are not only important for returning service members, but for all Americans’ psychological health, and we can take a cue from the millions of military families who know and practice this with their loved ones every day.
Jamie Howard, PhD
Dr. Jamie Howard is a clinical psychologist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of anxiety and mood disorders in children and adolescents. Dr. Howard will lead the Child Mind Institute’s Anxiety and Mood Disorders Center trauma response group. Her expertise in treating post-traumatic stress and adjustment disorders across the lifespan is a product of dedication to the most current and effective interventions, combined with her passion for helping children and families adjust to difficult and unexpected life experiences.
Dr. Howard has extensive experience providing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to children, teens, and young adults suffering from a range of anxiety disorders, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She has received specialized training in multiple innovative treatments, including trauma focused-CBT, cognitive processing therapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy.
Recently Jamie has become a familiar expert opinion weighing in on the most recent trauma related stories and providing insight and tips for parents during times of distress relating to Hurricane Sandy and the Newtown Tragedy. Jamie has been featured on Good Morning America, ABC Nightline, Fox News, CBS News and ABC News.
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