By James J. Crist, Ph.D., author of The Survival Guide for Making and Being Friends
Most kids look forward to summer vacation. After all, they’ve been working all year, and they’re ready for a break from getting up early, doing homework, and studying. But for some kids, especially those who struggle with social skills, or who don’t live close to friends, summertime can be a very lonely time. Fortunately, there are things parents can do to help their kids avoid being isolated and make summertime more fun.
Hanging out isn’t so easy
Years ago, it was common for kids to want to go outside to play because other neighborhood kids would also be outside. Someone was always wanting to play. Today, many kids stay indoors. For families in which parents are working, kids may be stuck in childcare or with a private sitter. The lure of electronics, such as video games, handheld devices, YouTube, and more, can keep many kids glued to a screen for hours at a time. Seeking out friends to play with may seem like too much work in an electronic world where entertainment comes to you. And in some neighborhoods, it may not be safe to let kids play outside on their own.
School district boundaries are another factor. In some communities, kids don’t go to the school closest to them, which means that the friends they make in school may not live close by. This is more of a problem in high school, when specialty programs are only located at certain schools that may be farther away. In rural areas, friends may live miles away as well. It may be unsafe to let kids ride their bikes on busy roads to see their friends.
Having siblings doesn’t always help
If a child has siblings that he or she gets along with at least some of the time, this provides a readily available supply of fun, so these kids are much less likely to feel lonely or isolated. Playing board games, going outside to play tag, or even just watching TV together can make the hours go by. On the other hand, if siblings fight frequently, have different interests, or are significantly different in age, they are more likely to feel isolated or alone or even rejected. Often, younger kids bug their older siblings to play with them, but older siblings just want to be left alone.
For an only child, not having kids to play with at home makes home life lonelier. These kids also may not have the opportunity to learn the give-and-take needed to maintain friendships. So when they do get together for a playdate, things may not go as well as hoped.
Parents can help
Parents can encourage their children to get contact information from other kids in school before school lets out. It’s easy to print out cards with your child’s phone number or email address so they can share these with friends. For kids with cell phones, they can have their friends program in their contact information. Parents can also make the effort to get to know the parents of their child’s friends. This makes arranging get-togethers easier, while making sure that you feel comfortable having your child spend time at another child’s house.
It’s also important to have activities available at your house for kids when they do get together. Board games can be helpful for playing indoors. Outdoor games such as kickball, beanbag toss, badminton, or bocce can be fun for kids to play. If you don’t have outdoor spaces where you live, be prepared to take the kids to a local park or field where they can play. Picnics, bike riding, and canoeing can also be fun activities for kids.
Parents may need to initiate and help arrange playdates for kids who have trouble with this. Sleepovers can be a fun activity and are easier to arrange in the summer. Summer camp programs can be a fun way to socialize with other kids. For shy kids, having a friend sign up with them may help them feel more comfortable.
Parents can also set a good example for socializing. How often do you entertain during the summer months? Inviting others over can be a good way to model inviting guests over. It can help to review some guidelines on how to be a good host with your kids. This may include offering guests a drink or even how to initiate conversations.
Finally, summertime can be a great opportunity for you to reconnect with your children. Some of the loneliness and isolation kids feel occurs because parents are too busy with work or other obligations. Be sure to set aside time when you don’t answer the phone or respond to emails or texts so you can focus on your child. Consider involving your children more in household activities such as cooking, baking, or even cleaning. Spending more time together can be rewarding for you and your child.
Dr. James J. Crist is a psychologist specializing in children with ADHD, depression, and anxiety disorders. He is the clinical director and a staff psychologist at the Child and Family Counseling Center in Woodbridge, Virginia, where he provides psychological testing and individual, couples, and family psychotherapy for children, adolescents, and adults. He has authored several books including The Survival Guide for Making and Being Friends, Mad: How to Deal with Your Anger and Get Respect, and What to Do When You’re Cranky & Blue. Visit his website at jamesjcrist.com.
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