Does My Family Really Need a Schedule This Summer?

For many families, being out of school (which tends to be routine and schedule-driven) means not having a schedule in place.  It is important to recognize, however, that having a set agenda, which is what daily/weekly schedules and routines inherently offer, tends to be as helpful during the summer as it is during the school year. Implementing a consistent family routine over the summer will make the transition back to school easier in the fall. Perhaps more importantly, establishing (and sticking to) a summer routine also is beneficial for minimizing meltdowns and other challenging behaviors in children of all ages.  

Research has shown that children behave better when there is predictability (i.e., when they can anticipate what is coming up next) in their daily/weekly routines. When our children have a schedule, they can plan ahead for what is to come and reduce any surprises or uncertainties in their day. This helps decrease anticipatory anxiety, which in turn reduces the likelihood of meltdowns.  Further, sticking to an established schedule of activities creates a sense of stability and security, and routines and structure can help teach children responsibility and self-control.

Some ways to maintain routines in your family during the summer include:

  • Keep a consistent wake and bedtime schedule. This will help keep your child’s body rhythm on track, make bedtime easier, and reduce the effects of being overtired.
  • Schedule regular meals and snacks. This helps to maintain optimal blood sugar levels and reduces the likelihood of a meltdown when your child is “low on fuel.” 
  • Include some downtime or relaxation in your child’s daily routine.  This reduces or prevents overscheduling your child. For some children, not having a good balance between active time and downtime in their day can trigger a meltdown. 
  • Include some age-appropriate responsibilities for your child. This can provide a sense of accomplishment and can highlight that your child’s contribution to the family unit is important. 
  • Schedule a fun family activity or just some family time to bring everyone together at the end of the day.

When developing a summer schedule for your family, include your child in the planning process.  A collaborative approach allows your child to feel a sense of control and agency, which in turn will likely increase cooperation with the summer routine. Also, use a visual system to represent the day’s agenda so your child can refer to it as needed and know what to expect. 

Lastly, a summer schedule should be derived with a sense of flexibility. Should an unforeseen change come up, a flexible schedule allows for things to move around and shift if needed. In these circumstances, prepare your child with some coping and positive self-talk which may include, “A change is about to happen, I can handle it” or “Oops this is a surprise in schedule, I didn’t expect it but I can handle it.” 

In summary, although it may seem counterintuitive, maintaining structure and predictable routines in your family over the summer will go a long way toward helping you have a calmer, more care-free and satisfying summer break.

Maria Kanakos, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist