By Ben Wilson
As the weather warms up, many of you are already forming strategies to tackle the challenges to your normal routine that summer brings. Perhaps you are excitedly anticipating new adventures, trips, and activities, or maybe you are plotting out cool crafts and fun backyard games to do at home. Whatever your plans for the coming months, I want to encourage you to use the long days of summer to adjust your routines in ways that will benefit family members all year long. Below are my top four routines to cultivate during the summer months. Pick a favorite and try it out.
- Take care of yourself. Summer is a great time to establish self-care routines, as there is often more flexibility to the family schedule. Exercise, reading, time with friends, and hobbies are great activities for maintaining peace of mind. Identify activities and relationships that would boost your morale and then plan to increase them in your life. Set goals for yourself that are realistic and learn to acknowledge even the slightest amount of progress. If ten minutes a week is all you can manage, celebrate it and strategize to increase that time during the coming weeks. Talk with your family about your self-care needs and ask them for ideas to help your goals become reality. Your kids will see and appreciate the difference it makes in your life.
- Create or renew family traditions. A flexible family schedule during summer also provides a great opportunity to start or renew a family tradition. Family traditions are a great way to stay active, connected, and communicating as a family. If your family has a beloved tradition that was lost due to the busy schedules of the school year, summer is the perfect time to revive it. If your family doesn’t have any traditions yet then family meals and game nights are a great way to start creating one.
- Journal. Encourage kids to write about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Many military children experience a variety of unique transitions, challenges, relationships, triumphs, and cultural experiences they would like to remember and share. Documenting their stories can help children more effectively form and communicate their feelings and thoughts. Journaling is also a great way to keep reading and writing skills sharp during the summer months. For some children, a summer journal will evolve into a life-long self-care tool.
- Practice Relaxing. Regular practice ensures that useful skills will be ready and effective when they are most needed. Summer is a particularly good time for skill practice because kids have fewer demands on their time and attention. Giving children specific feedback and praise is also a great way to encourage them to practice and use relaxation skills. Teach and practice the following relaxation skills during your family meetings, and/or bedtime and wake-up routines and your kids will return to school with some great tools to help them stay calm and relaxed:
- Deep Breathing. Draw air in slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth. Inflate the belly, not the chest. With younger kids, it may help to hold up a finger and encourage them to “smell a flower” and “blow a bubble.” Repeat as many times as it takes to achieve desired relaxation.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation. First, tighten foot muscles for 5 seconds. Then relax. Next, tighten the same muscles with greater intensity for another 5 seconds. Then try to relax them more than you did the first time. Progress up the body, repeating these steps for muscle groups in the legs, abdomen, torso, arms, neck, and head.
- Visualization. Picture yourself in your “Happy Place.” This may be a favorite environment, a recent vacation destination, or a place made up in your own imagination.