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Is Your Child or Teen Feeling Anxious This Summer?

Signs of anxiety in the summer and a few ways to handle it.

Key points

  • The lack of the structure during the summer time can create anxiety for our kids and teens.
  • Vacations can also be a source of anxiety.
  • A few strategies to help your child cope with summer anxiety.
Loannes Mac on Pexels
Source: Loannes Mac on Pexels

Even though summer holds the connotation of ice cream, bare feet, swimming pools,

and a happy-go-lucky vibe, many of our children have are heightened level of anxiety with the transition from the end of the school year into the summer season and often through the summer. Although it is a transition that comes with less work such as homework and studying, it’s a transition nonetheless, and for our children who don’t like change, it can be overwhelming.

During the summer, there can be more unstructured downtime with which our children don’t know what to do. This is especially true if our kids have a packed activity schedule after school and on weekends, during the school year, with little time for our children to manage their time and sit with quiet activities or alone. During that downtime (without screens) is when our children find their skills such as creativity, brainstorming, problem-solving, and figuring things out. Without this time, our kids rely on us, their parents, to schedule their time and can actually become anxious if they have nothing to do. The good news is that the statistics are strong: no child has yet to have been harmed via boredom.

What does anxiety during summer look like?

What are we doing?

This anxiety may look like a child who is worried about the schedule and what he or she will be doing each day. The “open-ness” of the daily schedule, as it veers away from the consistency that children and teens usually have during the school year, can be overwhelming.

They may have questions such as:

“What are we doing today?”

“What are we doing tonight?”

“What are we doing this weekend?”

Your child may be uncomfortable with not having a set schedule. A potential solution is to give your child a weekly or monthly desk or printed calendar that includes activities, a camp schedule, vacations, and friend or family gatherings so that your child can have a sense of what the week will look like. Your child can write down what is happening in an effort to be in charge of their schedule and upcoming events.

For your child who needs to know what their day will look like, create a visual schedule of the day’s events, such as what is general time, or a sequence of routine that includes: waking, breakfast, engaging in summer reading, and so on. It may also be helpful to create a dinner menu for the week and to get your child or children involved in the planning, food shopping, and preparation to give a sense of involvement in the family schedule.

Where are we going?

Vacations are also a source of anxiety for our children and teens, especially when they don’t know where the family is staying or what they will be doing or eating. For a family vacation that is a new destination, share with your child the dates, the location, and the name of the hotel and encourage him or her to look up the resort or hotel and create a visual image of the environment that they will call home for the next few days or week.

Encourage your child or children to plan an activity that the family can do together. For example, trying food at a particular restaurant or dessert shop, finding a place to rent bicycles, and making reservations.

I’m scared about the new school year

The beginning of August is traditionally the time when Back to School commercials and displays in stores become prominent. I haven’t been a student for so many years now but every time I hear a radio commercial or see a display at Target, I still get that nervous flutter in my stomach. It’s amazing how deeply ingrained that feeling is.

For many children, this can mean back-to-school anxiety. A few topics of worry can be:

  • Who will my new teacher(s) be?
  • What if I don’t like my teachers?
  • What if my teachers are mean?
  • Will I have friends in my class(es)?
  • Will my classes be hard?
  • What if I can’t handle my classes?
  • What if I get bad grades?
  • What sport will I play?
  • What if I don’t do well in my sport and my team is annoyed with me?
  • Will I be able to wake up on time?
  • Will I be able to get ready on time?

If your child experiences significant anxiety that affects the ability to enjoy the day or the rest of the summer, I recommend reaching out to your school principal (elementary, middle, or high school) and schedule a time for your child to walk through the halls of the school when they’re empty so they can become familiar with the layout again, or for the first time if a transition to a new school is impending.

If possible, meet the teacher(s) prior to the beginning of the school year.

Play on the playground of the school to keep the space familiar in your child’s memory.

The strategy is to create exposure and repeated exposure so that the anxiety around school, or the part or parts of school, becomes less scary and worrisome.

In the Meantime

Plan family and fun time together and enjoy the summer. Make meals together, spend time apart with sleepovers—with friends, at camp, and with grandparents or cousins.

Discuss your child’s worries as they come up and ask: “What do you need that will make your school worries lessen?” And work off of that information to guide your next steps.

Even though we usually associate the experience of anxiety with the school year, the summer can also create anxiety for our children and teens.

More from Liz Nissim-Matheis Ph.D.
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