Stressed Out Over Bad Child Behavior? How to Handle Summer Vacation with Your Kids
With summer here and kids getting out of school, many parents contact the parent coaching team about how to handle summer vacation. In our culture, images of summer vacation tend toward those of happy families playing in the sun, attending barbeques and bonding with each other over camping trips and reunions. The reality is, however, that frequently summer is a time of increased stress and fighting, due in part to more time together as a family and lack of structure that comes with fading school routines. What can you do to help make this summer different?
First, as James Lehman states, it is important to “Parent the child you have, not the child you wish you had.” While it is nice to think that you can leave a chore list for your child and at the end of the day everything will be completed without an argument, you are going to be a more effective parent when you adapt your style to your child. We recommend keeping a structure in place year-round where your child can earn something by completing her responsibilities. For example, you might let her know that she can go play with her friends as soon as her room is clean and the dishes are washed. If she refuses to do these tasks, then she doesn’t get to go today, but has a chance to try again tomorrow.
We do not recommend taking away things like trips, parties and vacations as a consequence for inappropriate behavior. That is because once these things are gone, they cannot be earned back. This is likely to cause more resentment than motivation for the behavior changes you are seeking. It will be more effective for you to work on daily, short term incentives for long term behavior change.
What about the parties and celebrations that are frequently a big part of summer fun? If you dread the annual family camping trip because every year your child is disrespectful and rude to his aunts and uncles or abusive toward his cousins, it is going to be ineffective to hope that this year will be different if you do not make any changes in how you respond. As James Lehman reminds us, “Nothing changes if nothing changes.” We advise having a problem-solving conversation with your child in advance before you go, and letting him know the expectations for his behavior and how you are going to hold him accountable to those expectations. For example, you could say, “I have noticed that every year when we go camping as a family, you swear and call your uncle Fred names and hit your cousins. I’m wondering what is going on for you that you think this is OK. What are you going to do differently this year?” As part of that conversation, you also want to say, “I also want to let you know that if you are verbally abusive while we are camping, you will not be allowed to go fishing (or whatever it is your child enjoys) until you make amends and can go without swearing and name-calling for an hour.”
We realize that summer brings its own stresses and excitement not normally found during the rest of the year. Using these tips will help you have a less stressful summer this year.