By Lois Nightingale, Ph.D
During the school year it can be difficult enough for single parents to keep kids cared for and out of trouble, but when summer arrives and school activities are no longer available, the challenge becomes even more complicated. Many single parents are left with the dilemma of being happy about extra time with their children but also the concern about what to do with them while they are at work. The following are some practical tips to assist single parents during those long three months:
1. Let kids help in finding solutions. Give your child the opportunity to contribute when plans are being made for the out-of-school months. Model and let them participate in problem solving skills. Write down all possible solutions (theirs too) and write the pros and cons of each. Children cope better with complicated scheduling if they feel they have had some input.
2. Make sure young children have fun, interesting people to spend time with. Grandparents or an aunt or uncle who really love kids can be a treat for your child; a parent of one of their friends can provide peer interaction as well as adult supervision. Summer school teachers or camp counselors can also bring positive interactions to your children.
3. Find organizations that have activities during the summer, such as community Parks and Recreation Centers, camps, churches or temples, university programs for children, YMCA camps, health club day camps, etc. Groups that are accustomed to planning summer activities for children can help make your summer go more smoothly, and provide fun memories for your children.
4. If children will be spending part of the time home alone:
A: Make sure you feel comfortable with leaving your child alone. There are no hard and fast rules about at what age it is OK to leave a child alone. Some children are mature enough to spend some time alone at age 9, others may be very impulsive and high energy and need constant supervision until their teen years. Some children are safe to leave alone but in the company of siblings can become combative or less inhibited about breaking rules. Pay attention to your comfort level. Ask your child how he or she feels. Ask what their concerns are and how these might be addressed. Talk to friends with children of the same age as yours.
B: Walk them through what to do in case of emergencies or times they might feel scared or unsure of what they should do. Ask them specific questions such as, “What would be the first thing you would you do in case of fire?” “What would you do if a stranger came to the door?” etc.
C: Leave a number where you can be reached. Instruct them how to use it (how to dial in a pager number or reach your extension, etc.)
D: Give older children tools to help them cope with peer pressure (volunteer organizations where they can help out, role-playing what they might say if one of their friends calls and wants to come over to the house while you is away, even drug testing if this has been a problem in the past.)
E: Leave kids a list of possible food choices for snacks or lunch.
F: Make a list of possible activities so they will have more to chose from than just TV and video games.
G: Create a list of incentives for helping out with specific chores or helping out around the house. Make sure you follow through with what you promise when they help out.
5. Have children help you create a “menu” they can choose from of things to do. Check out books and tapes from library, or video rentals. Help kids set up babysitting jobs, car washes or dress-up items to put on a play. Have safe art supplies on hand so they can be creative.
6. Set aside time to spend with each child individually so that they have the opportunity to process their feelings and thoughts with you without the interruptions of siblings. Each child needs to feel important and special. Individual time with each of them alone (going for dessert after dinner, to the park to feed ducks, etc.) can help accomplish this.
7. Help your children write or draw about three things they felt good about at the end of each day. Sometimes the summer can pass by so quickly that children forget their accomplishments or the fun activities they participated in. Writing a short list of accomplishments at the end of each day can help a child learn a habit that will provide them with good self-esteem for the rest of their lives.
8. Give your child something to look forward to. Having some fun time with you, a vacation or special event to look forward to, can help a child get through the time when you have to take care of other responsibilities.
9. Even if the situation during the summer cannot be changed, make sure that you are open to hearing your child’s feelings. After you and your child have discussed all possible scheduling ideas, and plans are made for the summer, be sure to give your child the opportunity to express how he or she feels about the situation. And even if there appear no other solutions than the ones you have found acknowledge your child’s feelings about the situation. Children need to feel that the adults who love them understand when they are feeling sad or disappointed or even angry. Accepting your child’s feelings can help the difficult times go more smoothly.
10. Be good to yourself so you have energy for your children. Make sure to take some time for yourself this summer. Even taking a few minuets alone after work before you start with the evening activities can help “change gears” so that you have more patience and can enjoy this extra time with your children.
© 2011 by Lois V. Nightingale, Ph.D., director of the Nightingale Center in Yorba Linda and author of My Parents Still Love Me Even Though They’re Getting Divorced. 714-993-5343 www.nightingalecenter.com