Mental Health During Summer Break: Tips for Parents and Caregivers

Bernadette Joy Graham, MA, LPCC, LLC

A Mental Health Moment

By Bernadette Joy Graham, MA, LPCC, LLC
The Truth Contributor

As the winters seem to move at a snail’s pace here in Ohio, summers fly by and if parents and caregivers are not careful, the whole family can be at risk for losing out on a time to nurture mental health during the break from school routines.

Towards the end of the school year, students are testing, taking final exams, as well as those preparing for prom and graduation events and celebrations with family and friends.  Parents and caregivers may have had carpools for transportation, lost vacation days during the school year due to illnesses going around, rearranging schedules for students involved in athletic practices and games.

A major worry is what to do with kids who normally spend a full day in school during parent work hours but now while school is out of session, work does not stop, the bills need to be paid and all is great if there are other family members or those in your support system with whom children may stay.

And let’s not forget the single parent who is bound to the legalities of their child or children spending summer vacation with their other parent in another state and the time, energy, effort and money it takes to go back and forth. While it may seem like a break to not have to be on the yearly school routine of packing lunches, taking off for student teacher conferences, transportation and the infamous “oh yeah I forgot basketball practice starts today at 5” but you work till 5:30, our children are missed and worry can set in for both parent and child.  An academic school year provides a routine which is healthy for growing children.  It also provides a healthy mindset to parents and caregivers as it’s one less worry when running a household.

As summer moves along, parents and caregivers may also focus on planning activities and outings for their children.  Not all families have financial means to visit an amusement park in Florida, yet it’s crucial not to overlook the importance of nurturing family mental health during this break from school routines.

To support your child’s emotional well-being during the summer months:

Maintain Routine: While summer break allows for more flexibility, maintaining a consistent routine provides a sense of stability for children.  Create summer wake-up times, mealtimes, and bedtimes to maintain a sense of structure.

Engage in Outdoor Activities: We know how fast the summer months pass so encouraging outdoor activities will reduce stress and improve mood.  Plan walks together in the neighborhood or downtown areas near the water.  Visit nearby parks with playgrounds, and/or bike trails or simply play some outdoor games in the backyard.

Reduce Screen Time: Children will be tempted to spend more free time in front of screens.  Discuss and set boundaries and encourage and provide other activities such as reading, arts and  crafts, even chores and responsibilities that align with their maturity level and abilities to maintain safety.

Promote Healthy Habits: Ensure nutritious foods are available in the home that do not need to be cooked such as fresh fruits, quick snacks like cheese sticks, yogurts, cereals and jello.  Heating leftovers or warming foods in a microwave, if adult supervision is available or a child is mature enough to use on their own.  Children need to stay hydrated.  While children are usually great fans of sodas or sweetened drinks, water and milk are efficient or unsweetened fruit juices.  A healthy diet greatly impacts mood and energy levels of both adults and children. Try to involve children in planning meals, finding recipes and even preparation of food to begin and maintain healthy habits.

Encourage Open Communication: If you are a parent you are very familiar with asking your children what did you do today? and they respond “nothing.”  Stress levels and negative moods affect our children more than we know.  They may ask “what’s wrong?”  and a common response also from the parent is “nothing.”  If children are avoided during times of stress they may begin to feel responsible.  Life is not perfect and there are times parents may feel uncomfortable or feel weak expressing their own emotions; emotions that a child cannot comprehend but at least let them know a basic emotion such as sadness, frustration, or anger and reassure them that it is okay to share their emotions and that everyone has them.  Create a safe, supportive environment.  Listen actively and provide validation, guidance and even coping mechanisms for your child.

Create Fun and Relaxing Activities: Just like adults need downtime for relaxation and even creativity, children need it even more especially during the summer.  Schedule time together and try new things together like planting a garden, or creating a backyard sandbox. On rainy summer days/nights bond with movie nights, board games, music and dancing or storytelling.

Look for Signs of Stress or Anxiety: Take time to assess for changes in your child’s mood, energy level and behavior.  Irritability, outbursts, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, isolation and withdrawal from activities can be signs of serious issues.  Let your child know they can trust you and you want to protect them and keep them safe with compassion and empathy.  Seek professional support if needed.

Practice Self-Care: Parenting is demanding all year round.  Regardless of your family dynamic of single parent, two parent home, blended families or caring for a child that is not your own, prioritizing your own mental health is imperative.  Take breaks, seek support from family, friends, and organizations such as a church, youth organizations, and neighbors who also have children or grandchildren.  Do things that bring you joy, peace and relaxation.  You should also seek professional support from a mental health care provider if feeling overwhelmed or need to vent.

Supporting children’s mental and emotional well-being during the summer makes a big difference in promoting a happy and healthy family overall.  Children deserve to have a childhood of comfort, safety, love, support, health and consistency.  It’s the least we can give as they did not ask to be here.  It’s wonderful to hear clients who come into my office and share what great memories they experienced during their childhood.  While summers go by quickly, childhood seems to leave us in a blink of an eye.  What will your child say about his or her childhood when they are one day soon an adult?

For professional mental health care for children (Registered Play Therapists), adults, or families visit

Contact your insurance carrier if you have insurance.  If you do not have insurance, reach out to Jobs and Family Services, or ask the health provider if they offer a sliding fee, meaning you may not be able to afford their hourly rate but many provide a lower fee.

Ask your primary care provider for names/contacts for mental health care providers.


Some local summer programs for children:








Bernadette Joy Graham, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Therapist and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist can be reached via Email:

For Appointments: 567-234-7849


If you feel you may be in a mental health crisis, please call 988 or go to the nearest emergency room.