Time for play: Parenting coaches offer summer tips for enjoying the break

June 2019 Posted in Community, People

Vienna Sheldon and a friend, berry picking. Summer Sheldon

By Melissa Wagoner

Summer in Oregon is fantastic for so many reasons but one of the biggest can be the additional time many parents get to spend connecting with their children once the schools have closed. But that time can also feel overwhelming with so many hours to fill and kids who – let’s face it – don’t always get along.

“I loved summer with my kids,” Meg Feicht said, a mother of two grown children, Kyle, 35, and Emily, 22, as well as a teacher at Silverton Christian Preschool in Silverton and parenting educator for Silverton Together. “They both say, ‘We had so much fun in the summer.’”

As a single mother Feicht has first-hand knowledge of the difficulty inherent in making the most of summer vacation. Parental work schedules can shrink free-time and tight budgets can make vacations all but impossible. But Feicht insists that summer fun doesn’t need to be expensive and it doesn’t need to be hard work because at the end of the day it’s really all about spending time together and enjoying some time outside.

“They’ve been indoors for nine months,” Feicht said. “And kids today tend to have too much screen time. It’s refreshing and nurturing and it’s about science and exploring. Make it simple; it doesn’t have to be any big entertainment.”

To inspire outdoor recreation, Feicht recommends turning the house inside out during the summer months – cooking outside, serving meals alfresco and bringing indoor toys into the yard as a way to breathe new life into them.

“Bring lots of imaginative play outside,” she said. “We loved making areas where dinosaurs can go – dirt, rocks – it opens up another part of their brain. When you take it outside and build with dirt, rocks and mud it’s a whole different side of that same toy.”

Even doing chores can be a fun, summertime activity when the whole family gets involved, Feicht notes.

“If you go out with them that’ll make all the difference,” she suggests. “Wash the car. Wash the dog. Water the garden. Pick berries by hand, have them make the jam with you. Up the baking and cooking – they’re learning math and science and food science.”

And for those parents who want to leave home but don’t have time or can’t afford an expensive trip, she recommends a staycation.

“Take advantage of the things around you,” she said. “With my kids we did a bunch of nature walks. We picked up sticks, moss and rocks. Take day trips a little way away – Eugene, Corvallis, Vancouver. Discover what’s in those towns. We discovered a lot of places.”

Most of all however, Feicht recommends not overthinking or over-planning summertime.

“So often we plan way too much,” she admitted. “Loosen things up a bit. Let them have free time to entertain themselves. Allow them to make some decisions. We really need kids to make their own entertainment.”

But no matter what the plan – easygoing free-time or highly scheduled fun – summer is also a time when difficult family dynamics can rear their ugly heads. Siblings and parents suddenly thrust together for months on end can make getting along a challenge and put stress on a parent’s normally functional discipline routine. But summer can also bring families closer, according to Summer Sheldon – another parenting educator for Silverton Together.

“I would really encourage them to use the time to build connection,” she said. “And schedule into your day special times.”

“Special time,” Sheldon explains, is a tool of the “Parenting by Connection” curriculum that she uses in her teaching.

“It’s five to ten minutes a day,” she explains. “It’s named and kids can ask for it.”

Time out of the schedule to play a silly game, cuddle or just sit and talk, “special time” is based on the needs of each individual child at any given time.

“Sometimes it’s things I wouldn’t normally do,” Sheldon laughed remembering a day when her daughter – six year-old Vienna – requested that she pretend to be a pillow.

“But you get to do that thing that you do with an infant – adore them – and they get to do what they do. It’s so creative.”

Although “special time” takes only a few minutes, Sheldon said the benefits for both the child and parent can last the entire day.

“If you do ‘special time’ their cortisol levels go down,” she said. “By building connection kids’ bodies can settle down and they can think and play.”

As important as the bond between children and parents is, so too, is the connection between parents and for that Feicht suggested taking advantage of returning college students to plan more date-nights out.

“This is the time to get babysitters and go on a date,” she recommends. “You’re so much a better parent if you get some time with your spouse.”

Another important way to ensure that children and parents get the most out of summer months is to limit screen-time for both – a point upon which Feicht and Sheldon adamantly agree.

“Try and put your phones away and be focused – try to be eyeball to eyeball,” Feicht said. “Because research is showing we’re losing our kids because our heads are down. We’re losing precious hours and we’re losing them now. Even though it’s hard to hear, we’ve got to do something.”

Sheldon agrees, adding that detoxing from the addiction to screens can take around three days.

“And then, all of a sudden, their brains start working,” she said. “And they can start playing again.”

But sometimes, despite best parental efforts, discipline issues arise and for these Sheldon suggests empowering kids to come up with their own solutions as much as possible.

“One of my favorite phrases is, ‘How can I help?’” she said. “And instead of focusing backward on the problem, empower them to look forward.”

And when issues of sibling rivalry occur, Sheldon recommends allowing children to work out their own problems with unbiased adult oversite.

“Instead of lecturing or interfering with sibling rivalry, remain neutral and positive,” she said. “Focus on the fixing instead of forensically teasing it all apart.”

And after the fight is over, it’s important to give kids the time to just be together and play.

“It heals so much for kids to just play together,” Sheldon said.

Although summer will never be perfect – as Feicht laughingly admitted hers rarely were – they can be a great time for both parents and kids to let their hair down a bit.

“Focus on actually playing – like hide and seek games and plain old roughhousing,” Sheldon said. “Just play. And move toward laughter. We really need more laughter. There’s so much we’re asking of our kids all the time, for us to delight in them is so powerful.”

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