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Parenting during Summer Break

Mutual respect can help navigate family summer schedules.

By: Harmony Linden, L.I.S.W.

Summer break is a time when children have less structure and routine.  This might lead to more defiance or new problems with behavior.  Sometimes parents feel overwhelmed or anxious about their children when they are out of school.

It’s tempting for parents to set an agenda for our kids or to keep them busy as a way to prevent behavioral problems.  For some, this works well, but when children resist, the whole family can squabble.  If tension is high in your family while the kids are out of school, you may be wondering how to get things back on track.

In her book, “Extraordinary Relationships”, Dr. Roberta Gilbert says, “Like all relationships, the ideal parent-child relationship is characterized by equality, separateness, and openness” (152).  She explains that of course the relationship is not equal in terms of maturity or ability.  However, it is a relationship in which both the parent and the child show mutual respect. There is room for each to be their own separate person, while also spending time with one another.

Moving away from an anxious focus on our children’s behavior, and toward a calm interest is a first step in improving relationships.  This shift ultimately helps our children manage their behavior.   When parents can calmly ask questions about kids’ choices, behavior and interests, it opens the door for a conversation about how to do things differently.  Parents might make a comment or a suggestion to a child, such as, “An adult might do it this way.” It is also important for parents to allow children to experiment with their own way of doing things as a way to learn from their mistakes.

A second step for improving parent-child relationships is to spend more one-on-one time with each child.  It’s important to develop a personal relationship with each of your children, as the relationship will often influence behavior.  For parents, this might mean letting your child choose the activity that you do together.  Parents can use this as a chance to better understand who their child is, separate from the rest of the family.

A third way to improve children’s behavior is for the parent to set limits for themselves.  Rather than arguing about doing chores, a parent might say, “I’ll drive you to your friend’s house once the chores are done.”  By focusing on what the parent is willing or not willing to do, children have to think more about how their behavior impacts their own goals for themselves.

Parents can resolve most behavior problems by staying calm, allowing children to learn from their own mistakes, and spending more time with their children.  When kids’ behavior becomes unsafe or when defiance and arguing get so bad that family members are not able to do daily activities of life, the family could benefit from professional family counseling.  Talking to a therapist who specializes in family dynamics is especially important for children and adolescents, as their behavior impacts the entire family.

Harmony Linden is a licensed therapist at the Catholic Charities Counseling Program.  For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our professional therapists, visit or call 515-237-5045.