How to Relax the Rules for a Fun but Sane Summer

Rules are made to be broken, but when it comes to summertime, many parents wonder: Which ones to break? You don’t want your home life to become a free-for-all for three months, but you also don’t want to create a police state that takes the “break” right out of summer break. So where do you redraw the lines?

“Rules are always based on need. You should rethink them based on the necessities of summer,” says educational psychologist Michelle Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. “Push the pause button and ask yourself, ‘What are the three rules we need to have during the summer?’ Don’t let it all go; just take a step backward and loosen one thing at a time.”

If you’re having a hard time letting go, Borba suggests asking yourself what memories you want to make this summer. The answer probably won’t be “no freedom” or “no fun.” Still, no matter what rules you loosen, you need to make sure you’re not so flexible that you end up creating more work and stress for yourself. After all, you need to know how to relax and have fun too!

Consider the following when rethinking the rules for the laziest days of the year. …

Remember what summer means

For kids, summer is a break from all the pressures and demands of school, activities and homework. It’s also a relief from the strict scheduling of the school year. Breakfast doesn’t have to be at 7 a.m., because there’s no 8 a.m. school bus to catch. So does it really matter if they stay up — and sleep in — an hour or two later than usual? Will your schedule allow for it? How much will it disturb your evening or morning routine?

One solution: Keep yourself sane by letting the kids stay up an extra hour, but limiting them to quiet activities in their rooms.

Consider the consequences

What will happen if you relax a given rule? For example, if you abandon the no-shoes-in-the-house rule, you’ll have a parade of flip-flops leaving trails of water, mud and grass clippings. If you let your kids watch TV before they clean up their toys, you’ll have to walk around the mess for the evening. What consequences can you live with, and which ones will drive you batty?

One solution: Choose one rule to enforce and let the other one go: So if kids still have to wear their shoes in the house, maybe let the tidy-up wait until after TV time.

View each situation separately

After making the rules, be flexible enough to break them on an as-needed basis. Weigh the benefits: If your kids are outside playing flashlight tag with the neighborhood kids, will they gain more by staying and playing or by leaving the game early to get to bed on time?

One solution: Tell kids they can stay out for an extra half-hour, but then they’ll have to come in even if the other kids don’t.

Put it on paper

Once you’ve thought of the must-have rules for summer, call a family meeting. State your expectations, but ask your kids for their input. “You can negotiate, but only let go of the rules that don’t make a difference,” says Borba. Then write down the new rules and put them up where everyone can see them. “Don’t make a big deal out of it,” says Borba. “Just make it clear.” Then, when the kids break a rule, you can just point to the paper and say nothing more.

About the Author

Gail Belsky is an editorial consultant and writer, and an adjunct professor of journalism. A 12-year veteran of women’s publications, she was a senior editor at Parents magazine and an executive editor at both Working Mother magazine and Time Inc.’s custom publishing division, where she created and edited two women’s service magazines for Target stores. Belsky worked on the launch of Time Inc.’s All You magazine and was an editorial consultant at Meredith Corp., where she created four custom publications for American Baby magazine. Most recently, she wrote a book for women, entitled The List: 100 Ways to Shake Up Your Life (Seal Press 2008).


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