Parenting young children — 26 June 2005
Give your child the gift of summer

Summer is fun time for children. School is out, and homework free days are very welcome. Summer for children is a time for recreation, enjoyable activities and sunshine. But parents may look at this period slightly differently. The end of structured routines of the school year, places the parents with the responsibility of creating a variety of stimulating and educational activities that will please and benefit their children.

Camps, athletic clinics, sport activities, beach outings, amusement parks, camping, hiking, and family vacations are common choices. All these are wonderful choices, but often do not fill all the available days of the three months hiatus.

What children need most is time spent with their parents. As they no longer have their school responsibilities, they crave to have their parents also be free to attend to them, play and frolic. Receiving attention from parents affirms children’s worth and lovability. It provides youngsters with confidence, self-esteem, security and the ability to grow and develop to their potential.

Most parents are very busy and overburdened. They are taxed with jobs, homes, life worries and not enough time to do all that needs to be done. Many conscientious parents help their children with their homework, drive them to their activities, feed and clothe them, teach and guide them, bathe and read to their children and collapse with exhaustion by the end of every day. Though the children get a lot of caring and instructions, many do not receive calm, carefree and joyous attention on a regular basis.

Research suggests that every child requires twenty minutes a day of individual quality time with a parent as a necessary basis for optimal development. Many parents do not have enough hours in the day to provide this needed attention. Summer affords parents the opportunity to make up the deficit in undivided attention the children may have missed. Some parents are concerned that summer activities require long trips, great expense and exhausting efforts. Actually, the goal of giving the children attention, affection and recreation can be achieved quite simply and even in their own backyard- literally and figuratively.

One wonderful resource for recreation, fun and learning is nature. We are fortunate to live in a beautiful area with an abundance of trees, woods, nature trails, ocean and miles of beaches. Yet, some local people underutilize these natural treasures.

Richard Louv, in his recent book ‘Last Child in the Woods’, claims that many of our children are suffering from what he calls “nature deficit disorder,” which he defines as, “diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.” While our children are trained early in computers and electronic games and devices, many lack the skills of exploring and understanding nature.

Research suggests that spending time in nature contributes to stress reduction, helps develop keen discrimination skills, expands imagination and helps promote inventiveness and creativity. Many children are fascinated with reading about dinosaurs, or pride themselves on being able to name objects and animals and explain certain rules of nature, such as the ocean tides, fog and cloud formation. This curiosity and lust for knowledge can be well served by direct observation of a worm, beetle or banana slug.

Spending time with parents in the woods, learning about rocks, flowers, animals, trees, and the history of those who lived here before us, provides children with an overall enrichment that is unparalleled. They get their parents’ undivided attention, which is extremely affirming to children and helps develop emotional strength and resiliency. Children also have the opportunity to expand their minds by asking questions and receiving valuable information. Youngsters also enjoy using their imagination in figuring out how and why nature evolves in the way it does. And above all, they benefit from the joyful, excited energy of a joint exploration with their parents.

Parents who are not as informed about nature may choose to use the resources of nature guides, park or museum docents, or even knowledgeable older children, to help teach them and their youngsters and spark their enthusiasm about the wonder of nature.

Trips to local or close parks combines outdoor recreation, learning and family bonding without major traveling or great expense.

Children can also help parents relax, be playful, get in touch with their capacity for awe and creativity. When both generations share the same experiences and emotions – deep intimacy occurs. This type of love is the essence of health and well-being.

If you are a parent who worries about summer planning for your children, please consider:

• Children value and need parental attention above all other activities. Self- esteem, emotional well-being and security of children are related to quality time with parents.

• If you are employed parents coordinate vacation time so you can both be available at the same time to be with the children.
• Providing fun and meaningful experiences for your children during the summer need not be tiresome or costly. Using the longer days for after hours or weekend small adventures is wise and rewarding.
• Consider spending time in nature with the children. It will help them be active, develop their curiosity, creativity and learning, as well as reduce their stress and bond with you.
• Your enthusiasm and joy while exploring with your children further enriches your children’s experience.
• Family sharing builds fond and forming memories for children and helps them develop loving connection with their parents and siblings. These bonding times often get recreated when your children grow to have their own families in the future. Health begets health.

June 26, 2005

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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