Long Days of Summer
Summer is here and if your child is on the anxious side you may find that they easily turn into “homebodies.” They just want to stay home. “I don’t want to do that! I hate going there. Why do I have to?” Gone are the days for most kids where there is a large group of neighborhood kids up bright and early and running outside to play. Some suburban neighborhoods look like ghost towns in the summer because parents are working and kids are in camps.
If your child is home for the summer months, the big attraction, especially for boys, is often the computer. Playing games until very late at night for hours and hours and then sleeping late is a common pattern for anxious kids and kids on the spectrum. Girls tend to gravitate towards social media and TV shows and movies. Sitting alone, even when “talking or playing with friends” is not healthy for hours and hours a day. Interacting on the computer is not the same as face to face interaction. Computer interaction does not strengthen social skills in the same way that being and doing with peers does.
“Why is this a problem? They are at school all year, don’t they deserve a break?” It is a problem because they are isolated and not engaged in activities that build self-esteem. Anxious children cling to their comfort zone and avoid anything that feels uncomfortable. Getting out and being challenged, learning new things, meeting new kids, initially may be anxiety provoking. Assuming the activity is a good match for your child, it will reap great rewards. New friends, skill development, physical exercise, and separation from parents are all important tools to help your anxious child feel more confident and less anxious.
Camps are expensive, but some have scholarships for low-income families. Communities often have inexpensive or free summer activities. If that is not an option, a schedule for the summer becomes important. Up and out early, consistent bed time, limits to screen time, social interaction with peers, physical exercise. As a parent, you are in charge and can make the summer an active healthy one for your child. Talk about it, share ideas, but make it clear this summer will not be a summer of social isolation, little exercise, unlimited screen time or being attached like velcro to Mom or Dad.
It may initially be a battle, but kids settle into routines and respond to what is expected. Screens are not the enemy, they have their place but like everything else, need to be used in moderation. Anxious kids can easily hide behind screens, so they need limits because they can’t easily limit themselves. Physical exercise is like medicine for anxiety and depression. The battle of getting your kids up and out of the house will pay off when they are healthier and ready to face the social, emotional and challenges of back to school after an active productive summer.