28 Jun On Joy, #4: A Summer Survival Guide

Let’s be honest: it’s easy to feel joy in June. The breeze is cool, the grass is green, and every trip to the beach or playground is a new adventure. But July and August stretch before us with their excessive heat and their boredom and their whining, and sooner or later we might find ourselves searching for new strategies to keep ourselves from behaving crankily toward each other.

Here, from our family to yours, are three ways to have fun with your kids and keep the joy alive:

Parent like your opposite.

For better or for worse, my wife and I are rules-and-routines parents. Rituals-and-traditions parents. Low-sugar, low-TV-time, early-to-bed parents. Sunscreen-and-bug-spray, better-safe-than-sorry parents. While this works for our family day-to-day, we realize there’s a lot of joy to be gained from taking the occasional cue from our more spontaneous, less annoyingly uptight friends. So this summer, every now and then, we’re trying our hand at being stay-up-late-for-ice-cream parents and cat-videos-on-YouTube parents. You won’t be surprised to hear that our son loves every minute.

Moms, dads and caretakers who bristle at the thought of schedules or routines might challenge themselves to add one or two special, ritualized activities to their week—a hike every Saturday morning, for example, or Tuesday night dessert. Young kids love to be able to predict what’s going to happen, and having a treat to or celebration to look forward to can help lighten everyone’s mood.

Play by your child’s rules.

It turns out that living with a chatty, imaginative preschool-aged child is more than a little like doing improv comedy—24 hours a day. The “Temple of Dendur” scene from When Harry Met Sally? I live there. Interactions similar to this one take place all day long:

“I have decided,” Billy Crystal’s character says to Meg Ryan’s, “that for the rest of the day we are going to talk like this.”

“Like this?” she says, gamely trying to imitate the accent he has adopted.

“No,” he says. “Please. To repeat after me,” and leads her through a series of verbal exercises that throw her off balance for a moment but finally delight.

It can tempting to shut down our children’s silliness when we’re busy or tired or just not in the mood. But when we engage and respond to their play with openness, we are able to get to know our kids in new, deeper ways and awaken our own capacity for joy and creative experimentation.

Relating with ease and good humor also communicates to our child that we are on their side—this knowledge can help them decide to comply with our wishes when we’re asking them to cooperate or challenge themselves (see “work together,” below.)

Work together.

It seems like a set-up for conflict, but our family has found doing chores together to be an unexpected source of joyful connection. Our son is three, and we know that kids this age are forever seeking ways to relate to the adults in their lives and to show us that are competent and independent. We can meet both these needs for them—and simultaneously teach practical and spiritual skills like courage and persistence by allowing them to work alongside us as we do the many things that keep life at home running smoothly.

If you are unsure what kind of work might be appropriate for your three-, four-, or five-year-old to do around the house, there are many lists of suggestions available via Google or on Pinterest. Our particular 3-year-old child can, with help and supervision, load and unload the dishwasher, cut his own soft fruits with a paring knife, and fold and put away his own laundry, among other things. Our family Sunday Service ritual allows us to take on more complicated tasks together and do for others.

When we show our young kids that we trust in their ability to help us, to challenge themselves, and to master new skills, we open the door for them to feel the particular joy of accomplishment: of feeling satisfaction both in what they have done and can do.

Do you have other strategies to keep summer fun? Let me know in the comments or at the Think Sacred Facebook page!

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