For the week ending 4 August 2012 / 15 Av 5772

Summer Break

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Jacob

Dear Rabbi,

Summer vacation is here. In our family, the girls have been on break from school for a while. The boys will be going on break soon. Everyone's on break but my wife and I - and we feel we're about to break. We certainly love our kids, and always (theoretically) look forward to the summer vacation in order to be able to spend more time with them. But when the time comes, we don't really know what to do to keep them busy. Do you have any advice on how to get more out of the "vacation"?

Dear Jacob,

Don't sweat over it too much. All parents are challenged with "entertaining" their kids over summer break. Here are a few tips:

All people, including kids, need structure. A common mistake parents make is to think that since the kids have such a rigid schedule throughout the year, the vacation is a time to give them a break. While this is true to a limited extent, kids still absolutely need a basic framework of commitments and obligations. Otherwise, they get pampered, spoiled and agitated.

For this reason, while they might go to sleep later than usual, and get up later, you must impose a bed-time and wake-time which will enable them to maintain some semblance of a normal day. They also must say their normal daily prayers as when in school, clean up their rooms, help with household chores, and have normal meals at normal hours. Too often parents let their kids sleep-in in order to get a few more hours of quiet, but this starts a cycle of laziness and inactivity that ultimately leads to a lack of fulfillment and anxiety.

One good way of encouraging this type of schedule is to make and hang a large chart with the various objectives and give daily and/or weekly prizes for X number of checks attained per child. You can even employ healthy competition, or encourage group effort to attain the objectives. And you can also promise a grand-prize for any child who adheres consistently to the schedule by the end of the summer.

The above is regarding providing structure and responsibilities. But you should also provide your children with entertainment and activities. It is definitely worth investing in new games and books that will keep the kids occupied. But rather than stocking up for the whole summer at once, buy a little each week, and bring the kids along for the excursion.

Similarly, encourage them to develop hobbies or interests that they can cultivate and develop over the break. This can include sports, arts and music, or crafts of different sorts. In some cases, specialized summer camps cater to these interests. In fact, sometimes, older children might even be encouraged to make a type of camp for local children, and this not only helps the parents and keeps the kids busy, it gives the older children the opportunity to be independent, responsible and creative and teaches them to work with others. It also enables them to earn some spending money.

A last suggestion is to plan family events and outings over the break. Don't rely on spontaneous decisions that are made hastily and usually result from pressure and tension. Rather plan ahead and make and post an events calendar. This gives the kids something to look forward to, and also gives you certain leverage over bad behavior. Even simple, inexpensive excursions like a BBQ in the park, swimming or an overnight campout can do wonders. Educational trips to museums or other cultural events can also be included.

It's certainly not an easy time, but with forethought you can make the break a very nice time for you, your wife and your children. Think both like a parent and an activities director. Impose structure and demand cooperation, but offer incentives and rewards while showing the kids that there's lots of fun in store for them – if they'll be on board.

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