Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
MT. PLEASANT — School has ended and kids are home for the summer, but how do we keep them mentally and physically healthy in light of changing schedules and summer fun?
Enough sleep is imperative for the mental health of children and adults.
Kids no longer have to get up and be at school by a certain time, so do they still need a bedtime?
According to Dawn Keith of Aurora Counseling and Wellness, it is important to keep some kind of wake up and bedtime schedule even during the summer, even if it looks a little different from during the school year.
It’s OK to let them sleep in and stay up later, but maintaining a sleep schedule will help children get enough rest.
There are benefits in parents holding some sort of sleep schedule for themselves, because with the kids home more often, fuses are bound to get short.
“Learning to regulate your own emotions is important,” Keith said. “When kids are home more our own anxiety can sometimes increase and look like irritability or short fuses.”
Keith encourages regulating oneself in order to be a co-regulating model for children.
“When we regulate our own emotions we send those positive mirror neurons to our children,” Keith said.
According to Registered Psychologist Dr. Patricia Turner, Ph.D., mirror neurons are how people know the emotional state of those around them.
“It’s also how you are able to co-regulate another person’s emotional state,” Turner said.
Turner also says that most adults auto-regulate their own emotions in order to live independently mature lives, however, even they do not do so all of the time.
Adults are able to turn to another for support and ask for it in their moments of disregulation, though, and children have not had enough experience to ask so directly.
Having the children around more is also an opportunity to enrich their mental well-being and the parent-child bond.
Keith says that open the dialogue of emotions and experiences without judgment is a great way to maintain and improve children’s mental health over the summer months.
While it is nice to take a break from the norms of school and some responsibilities, do not take a break from any mental health services that are already in place.
Keith reminds parents to know the warning signs of a mental health crisis and have a plan with your child should one arise.
The Association for Children’s mental health gives these examples of signs to watch for:
- Rapid mood swings
- Extreme energy or lack of it, sleeping all the time, or being unable to sleep
- Severe agitation, pacing,
- Talking very rapidly or non-stop
- Confused thinking or irrational thoughts
- Thinking everyone is out to get them or seeming to lose touch with reality
- If they are experiencing hallucinations or delusions
- Making threats to others or themselves
- Isolating themselves from friends and family, not coming out of their room
- Not eating or eating all the time, rapid weight loss or gain
- Suicidal thoughts and statements such as ‘I want to die’ or even possible vague statements such as ‘I don’t want to be here anymore
Of course, it is summer.
The sun is shining, and the outdoors are calling.
So, get out and do things together with the children.
“Invite your children to activities you both enjoy, get outdoors, move your bodies,” Kieth said.
“We have several parks and recreation trails throughout the county that are safe and fun for kids and families,” Washington County Public Health Administrator Emily Tokheim, mph said.
While the family is getting outside and enjoying time together, Tokheim reminds them to keep their physical health in mind as well.
“It is important to drink plenty of water and wear, and reapply, sunscreen when spending time outdoors during summer, in addition to wearing a hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from getting a sunburn,” Tokheim said.
“It is best to avoid being outside too long during the hottest hours of the day, the best time be active outside is during the morning and evening hours,” Tokheim added, “If it is too hot to be outside, staying inside and reading a book is a great way to keep your brain healthy!”
Eating well is another important part to keeping kid’s minds and bodies healthy over the summer.
Throughout the school year, the Mt. Pleasant Community School District’s fourth and fifth grade students participated in the Iowa State Extension Office’s Switch Program.
The classes participated in two rotations of “do, chew, and view.”
These concepts can also be applied to healthy summer living for children.
“Do” consists of encouraging students to get active with games and exercise.
One good example could be plenty of cool-down time at the pool.
“My daughter loved her activity goals,” Salem Elementary parent Kali Watson said.
“Chew” encourages students to try new foods and get five servings of fruits or vegetables in every day.
Jefferson, Washington, and Henry counties have farmers markets that afford kids the opportunity to pick fresh and in-season fruits and vegetables.
“View” is less transferable to summer as it consists of learning about healthy habits through videos or lessons, but even then kids can engage their brains to help their bodies and minds.
Summer is a time for fun and sun, but it does not have to be a time for dis-regulation, couch surfing, or irritability.