Summer feels antithetical to morning routines — the days are longer, the weather is perfect for backyard sports and neighborhood adventures, and, of course, there’s sleeping in. But unstructured days and late starts on summer mornings can make the morning routines harder when it’s time to return to school. That’s why parents should establish a morning routine for summer and take the pain out of transition.
“The key to a good transition from summer to the routines needed for school is to never give up on having a routine,” explains Ari Yares, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and nationally certified school psychologist with more than 15 years of experience working with families and children with academic and behavioral problems. “Even with the lazier days of summer, some basic routines need to be in place. This might include getting lunches ready in advance and having a bag packed and ready for a trip to the neighborhood pool.”
The routine can certainly change with summer — after all, for a lot of kids, their schedule is significantly altered. But kids still need that structure, and a summer routine can also help make those summer days a little bit easier for everyone involved.
“Routines, in general, help kids understand and manage expectations,” says Yares. “When we as parents fail to provide a routine, we’re making it harder to understand our expectations, which can lead to conflict with our kids. It’s also important to note that kids are developing their executive functioning skills, i.e. the parts of their brain that help them manage behavior, self-regulate, plan, etc. This doesn’t stop just because it’s summer.”
So what does that look like? It doesn’t have to be complicated. Breakfast and morning hygiene standards should be kept up anyway. Lunch and snacks should be served or offered at consistent times. Bags can be packed in the morning for outings. If kids go to childcare during the week, obviously they will need to be up, dressed, fed, and washed before it is time to go.
So, with that in mind, should parents change bedtimes for summer? Those long days may tempt parents to push them back — it can seem surreal to put kids to bed when the sun is still shining and kids are playing in the neighborhood. If that’s the case, parents can either modify the sleep schedule or expect difficult kids all day.
“The amount of sleep that your child needs doesn’t change because it’s summertime,” says Yares. “Adequate sleep is incredibly important for growth and healthy development. If summer bedtimes are changing, wake-up times need to be adjusted to make sure that your child is getting enough sleep.”
If summer bedtimes mean later mornings, parents should return to school bedtimes a few weeks before school starts, to give kids a chance to adjust back.
“As with any transition, it is going to be easier to slowly transition into the school-year routine than it will be to abruptly switch from lazy summer to a frenetic school year,” recommends Yares. “Much of this, however, depends upon your child. More resilient kids will be better adept at managing the transition. Others may not and will need a longer and more incremental switch to a school routine.”
It’s not up to the kids alone to keep these routines, either. That’s not fair. Parents need to do their part to keep to the routine. It may even help kids adjust better when the routine changes, says Yares.
“Developing routines and talking to your kids about them is an important way of helping to build up those skills so that they can be more resilient when routines need to be altered.”
How to Establish a Morning Routine
- Start your routine in the summer. It doesn’t have to be the same routine as the school year, but every day should have some structure. It’s simply easier on kids.
- Make everything revolve around sleep. Kids need their sleep, even in summer. So if bedtime gets pushed back, mornings need to be adjusted.
- Treat a routine with respect. Parents should explain what the routine is and do their part to keep it.
- Transition to a new routine over the course of a few weeks. Transitions are easier when they happen slowly, so the transition to a school morning routine should happen over weeks.
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