Taking Advantage of Summertime to Get to Know Your Child

Summer’s finally here, and while that may not mean a lot to the majority of the working population, children everywhere are rejoicing in the newfound (however temporary) freedom of their three-month vacation from school, homework, and all things academic. While you probably aren’t afforded the same release from work, as a parent, summer is the ideal time to take note of your child’s happiness and adjustment, or perhaps lack thereof.

The academic year is constantly bustling with the hectic schedule of school five days a week, and it’s attendant after-school, extracurricular activities, which makes summer an excellent time to escape from your own 9 to 5 schedule and get closer to your children. “Getting closer” doesn’t imply simply spending a certain amount of time with them over the next three months; it means actively engaging them in conversation and discussion, gauging their levels of happiness and adjustment and getting to know them better.

Many parents feel that they know their children well enough, and assume that their children are socially well adjusted and problem-free. While this may be true in some cases, many would be surprised at the things they don’t know about their children and at how big the otherwise invisible gap or disconnect between them and their children may actually be. So while this summer may not exactly spell out vacation for you, it is a break in your children’s lives, making it a perfect time to get to know them better. So slow down and take some time to investigate three things that parents need to take into account about their children:

Is my child happy? While most parents will automatically answer “yes” to this question, this may be more of an easy answer than an accurate one. With the stress and exhaustion parents may be experiencing in their own lives, it may be possible that they are overlooking the stress and unhappiness their child is facing. According to research conducted by Irina V. Sokolova at the Rochester Institute of Technology, one in 33 children suffers from depression and one in eight adolescents suffers from depression.

Although there are normal ups and downs in every childhood, make sure you’re taking notice of any prolonged or chronic bouts of depression that may be plaguing your kids. Seeking treatment and remedying the problems of childhood or adolescent depression not only lets your children enjoy the happiness that is supposed to come with childhood, but it also reduces their chances of experiencing depression as adults. So don’t merely assume your children are happy; taking steps to find out what they are actually experiencing goes a long way toward ensuring it.

What kind of person is my child? While this may be easier to answer for older children, the personalities of younger children are often overlooked or go unnoticed. Parents may be surprised to learn that their child is actually humorous, quick-witted, ambitious, considerate, etc. or he or she may tend to be victimized, short-tempered, selfish, etc. Becoming aware of these traits is important because it’s not just your child you’re becoming familiar with; you’re gaining insight into the adult they’re going to be one day. By identifying these character traits when a child is still young, parents can encourage positive behaviors and challenge negative ones, thereby supporting the child’s development into a strong, decent and caring adult.

It may be surprising to discover that the majority of traits and characteristics developed in early childhood will carry on through to adulthood. Research has shown the personality developed by age 8 (sometimes younger) remains relatively stable and unchanged throughout an individual’s lifespan. In fact, many of these personality characteristics are indicative of behaviors and success in later adulthood, as shown by a longitudinal study conducted through Colgate University and the University of Minnesota. This study tracked a sample of 205 children, ages 8-12 years old, and investigated the predictive links between childhood personality traits and adult personality and adaptation over a span of 20 years. They found that personality shows coherent patterns over time in terms of both stability and linkages to adaptive behavior, including academic attainment, career and financial success, law abiding and un-abiding behavior, and romantic and friend relationships. So when you’re talking or spending time with your child, really pay attention and observe, because the child you’re looking at now will eventually become the adult you have raised.

Is my child socially well-adjusted? Many parents confuse this question with, “Does your child have a lot of friends?” Just because your children may be popular or appear to have a large number of friends, do not automatically assume they have the support or type of friendships they need to be happy. While many “popular” children may have large social networks, these social networks may not be providing the close friendships necessary for fulfillment and satisfaction. Additionally, pressures and stress associated with popularity often add to anxiety and may have negative effects on self-esteem.

On the other hand, the fact that your child may not have as many (or the type of) friends that you would ideally like them to, is not necessarily cause for concern. Take time to see if your child’s circle of friends is sufficient for him or her, that is, if it provides the social support and self-esteem he or she needs.

It’s never a good idea to assume that your children are happy or unhappy with their group of friends and the social networks they associate with. It is important to observe closely and ask questions. If upon this closer inspection they appear happy and content with the amount and quality of friends they have, then it’s safe to say they are well-adjusted.

For many parents it can be difficult to get their child to spend time with them, especially if that child is an adolescent. If this seems like a daunting task, don’t give up easily. Find out what your child’s plans are for the summer (if they’re old enough to make their own) and make concrete plans to get together whenever you both have some free time. Ask them what they would like to do, find a mutual interest and have them commit to any activities you plan to do together. Be respectful of their independence, while showing that you care about how they are doing, and about getting to know them for who they are. If it’s too hard to get them to commit, find them in their spare time and suggest something as simple as taking a walk together. It may be difficult, but this time together is essential to getting to know your children, which is necessary to build a relationship with them based on authentic interaction rather than assumptions made from a distance. And while this type of relationship is valuable to you personally, you are ultimately promoting adjustment, happiness, and self-confidence within your children, which will enable them to create a life for themselves that is meaningful and rewarding.

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