For many children, summer can be fun in the sun, a time to relax and enjoy those lazy days. But for others, summer may be very stressful. During the school year, days are structured with learning and physical activity. Children also have a community of friends to interact with each day. However, once summer break begins, those structured days can turn into late nights, junk food and isolation. Those three things can have a big impact on a child’s mental health. Good nutrition and mentally stimulating activities will keep children motivated, happy and mentally healthy.
While it can be difficult to keep meals healthy all the time during the summer, especially when you’re running around and heading to the pool, day camps or park, incorporating some daily or weekly routines will not only positively influence healthy eating habits, but also add some structure to the summer months. Keeping healthy food options available for children during the summer months will also give them energy as well as make them feel happy. Feed the body, feed the mind.
Stopping at a farmers market is fun, and children can have a voice and a choice in the healthy fruits and veggies they pick for their snacks. Also, think about starting a garden if you don’t already have one.
Here is a tip for grocery shopping with children: Consider shopping in the perimeter of the store. That is where the healthiest foods are located. Sugars and carbs are usually located in the middle aisles.
Depression and sadness can creep up during summer months. Children have more free time; school and neighborhood friends go on vacation; and soon video games take the place of socializing and physical activities. Getting off the couch and getting moving outside can do amazing things like boost endorphins, Mother Nature’s feel-good chemical. Going for a daily walk or bike ride is fun and simple, but if you want to be creative, head over to the dollar store and grab some goodies to create things like a neighborhood sidewalk chalk art show; play some outdoor tic-tac-toe with a shower curtain, tape, and Frisbees; or make an obstacle course out of pool noodles. A game of kickball or a hula hoop contest are also great ideas.
As adults, we often think that the months children are in school are the most stressful for them. However, summer can be the most daunting time for children to get through. Those who thrive on stimulation and activity may feel lost or let down once school is over. Getting into some healthy summer habits will really help a struggling child stay motivated and happy. Children’s mental health is important all year round. Consider summer therapy sessions if you are concerned about your child’s increased sadness or isolation.
Outreach Teen & Family Services is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer programs to youth ages 5 to 21, parents and families, in a welcoming, supportive environment. 412-561-5405. This column is partially underwritten by the Mt. Lebanon Police Association.