It is common for children and teens who struggle with mental health to eagerly anticipate the summer break. Many of these youth identify school as their main stressor, and believe they will “return to normal and feel fine” in the summer. Parents and caregivers may also long for the less stressed summer days for their children to be more relaxed, happier and enjoy life again. Parents talk about the improved weather, fun activities, and no homework contributing to their child’s improved mood. The summer break definitely allows time for growth, development, and improved mental health; however, summer can also be a time where certain mental health issues need to be tended to even more than usual.
During the summer break, depressed youth may feel lonelier with less opportunities to socialize, compared to school days. The lack of structure may feed into anxious youth’s tendency to ruminate on their worries. For children with ADHD, medication holidays may unleash the same behaviors that were controlled by prescription medications, namely inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. This could contribute to increased stress on the child, parent, and others involved with the child (e.g., camp counsellors, friends). Children who struggle with Body Focused Repetitive Behaviours (BFRBs) such as hair pulling, nail biting, or skin picking may find that they have more time to be on their own to engage in their repetitive behaviour. As well, children and youth who show signs of behavioural addiction to video games, internet gaming, social networking and other non-Internet-based forms of technology (e.g., television viewing) may get in more conflict with their parents around limiting screen time during the less structured summer months.
Here are general suggestions to help youth improve or maintain their mental wellness during the summer:
Parents and children can discuss how time could be structured before the break begins (e.g., summer camps, vacation, summer jobs, volunteering).
- Allow for time to have fun and discover new things.
- Eat a balanced diet (and regulate eating schedules).
- Ensure youth get enough sleep, but not over sleep (children 3-5 years need about 10-13 hours; children 6-13 years need about 9 -11 hours; youth 14-17 years need about 9-10 hours).
- Exercise on a regular basis.
- Spend time outdoors to get fresh air.
- Take prescription medication regularly (if you opt for a medication holiday, discuss the details with your doctor).
- Practice relaxation activities such as deep breathing, muscle tension relaxation, and visualization.
- Attend therapy sessions as recommended, even if the stress level is lower; learning coping strategies when relaxed is more effective than learning when a person is in crisis.
- Talk about your feelings with adults that you trust.
- Monitor your screen time, and ensure that you continue to take care of your basic needs (e.g., eating, showering), as well as getting fresh air, socializing, and learning something new.
- Socialize with friends by planning playdates or hang out sessions.
- Get a part-time job to learn about work ethic, meet new people, prevent boredom, and earn money (which is rewarding!).