When Summertime Brings on the Blues
“School’s out for summer!”
These seem like celebratory words for most kids, but many might disagree. Instead of bringing days at the pool, campouts and fun, some children see the season as one filled with isolation, limited access to supportive adults – like teachers – and maybe more work.
“It can be hard for many kids, especially due to the comparisons to their friends who are elated that summer has arrived,” said Paige Thompson, CSW-PIP, an inpatient therapist with Avera Behavioral Health. “Some children have busy summers filled with fun vacations and trips. Others may be busy, but it’s with chores or caring for their siblings. It’s not all the same for kids.”
Planning for Changes
Before joining Avera, Thompson worked as a school social worker for five years, and said she remembers how the approach of summer break would affect students.
“We would see spikes in behavior changes, and many times, it was just chalked up to kids being antsy for school to finish,” she said. “But for kids who were dreading summer, with lots of time alone or difficulties that came with that reality, the behaviors may have been warning signs.”
Because routines, including sleep, shift so dramatically from class-in-session to months of no school, kids can feel thrown off. That can bring on more mild cases of “the summer blues.”
“Changes like that are big for kids. Parents might see some younger kids cry the last day of school. They are saying goodbye to friends, their teacher and the environment they just shared for nine months with that group,” Thompson said. “Kids of most ages are not as verbal as adults, so their emotions may show in other ways.”
Parents can prepare for summer and look for activities that may occupy children or set up plans for events and new routines.
Small Things Add Up
Not every child needs a trip to Disneyworld to feel fired up for summer fun.
“There are tons of free programs at parks, libraries and in communities that can really help kids feel engaged or give them things to look forward to,” said Thompson. “Even a family game night or going to a movie with mom and dad or as a family can help improve moods and give kids a regular activity that not only serves as fun, but creates opportunities for conversation.”
When Improvement Doesn’t Come
While transitions can bring about mild discomfort that goes away in a few days, sometimes the sadness or anxiety don’t go away.
“When you see changes in behavior that are persistent, such as sleep changes or eating, appearance changes or interaction, that could be a sign something more significant is going on,” Thompson said. “Listen carefully and engage kids to see if they are in need of help. Sometimes they may need more supervision or just more of your time.”
By using phrasing such as “I noticed that you …” instead of direct queries on well-being can work better to help kids who need to talk.
“It helps to show you’re concerned – and it helps if you ask the child if they are concerned about these changes, too,” she said. “If things don’t seem to get better, start with your family provider and remember there are resources in health care, as well as in your community, that can help.”
A newly published book, "A New Norm” is by Avera and Children’s Home Society, and it is intended to touch the lives of children, adolescents and even adults who suffer from depression and related mental health conditions. It can help foster meaningful conversations between parents and their children, and within families, youth groups and classrooms.
To learn more or to order a book, go to Avera.org/new-norm.