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It’s hard to believe that summer is half over.  Whether you are a stay at home parent, a work outside of the home parent, or a work at home parent, you hold a minimum of two jobs.  There’s the one that takes you away from your children and the one that bonds you ever closer to them.  It’s the job that occupies most of the away-from-your-children hours that earns you a few cherished days off.  And whether you take an elaborate vacation to Europe, cruise with club Disney, go camping or make home-made popsicles and play by the pool, vacations bring up lots of boundary issues for parents.

Summer is the hallmark of extended bedtimes to accommodate amusement parks, night swims and s’mores by the fire.  While bending the rules is certainly acceptable, make sure that as a parent you are bending them consciously and with forethought, and not from a place of being worn-out or from guilt of not having been more available due to work.

Children need boundaries, and though they tend to fuss, resist and even rebel against them, they actually like them.  Imagine that the boundaries you set for your child are like building fences out on the open range.  Once the fence is built you can fill it with cattle and let them roam freely. The same is true of children, once you establish the boundaries, they have a lot more freedom to make their own choices as long as they stay within the limits.  Conversely, it’s disastrous to just plunk the cattle down in the middle of your property with no fences to keep them safe.

Kids need those fences so that they can stay safe and healthy.  If you extend a bedtime or let them have an extra treat at a picnic because you have weighed the consequences, evaluated their needs and feel the decision is appropriate, then that’s like moving the fence a little on your property to allow for more movement.  If you let them have extra treats or stay up late because you feel guilty or because “it’s vacation, who needs rules,” then you are setting a dangerous precedent.  The precedent is one where the child begins to realize that decisions get made based on guilt levels and whimsy instead of with forethought and care.  In effect, they find a hole in the fence.

Two things occur when a child finds a hole in the fence.

1)  They love the initial freedom, but then become scared.  They realize they are no longer in the protected zone and will start pushing more and more to force a new fence to be built.  You’ve seen this, one cookie becomes a whine for two… becomes a need for an ice cream… becomes a melt-down on the pier.  Parents who indulge these requests absentmindedly are actually decreasing their child’s emotional safety.  To the parent’s credit, they think they are being “cool,” “lenient,” or “vacation minded,” but in reality they are stressing their child out.

2)Children who find the hole and exploit it on vacation will remember this,and if the parent who was being indulgent just because it was “vacation,” will have a great deal of difficulty re-establishing the boundaries once the normal routine is again in place. 

How to get around this as a parent?  Decide what summer/vacation rules are appropriate for your family.  If you are a parenting team, it is crucial that these boundaries be set and enforced as a team.  It is appropriate to have more wiggle room, to allow the boundaries to cover a larger area than they might otherwise cover.  It’s OK to extend bedtimes, allow more friends over and have a sleep-over in the middle of the week, as long as these are decisions that are made consciously with the entire family’s well-being under consideration.  Don’t get caught off guard, know what’s important for you and your child and why.  Next, don’t falter.  If bedtime is 8:30pm, then move your schedule to accommodate that.  If you allow one treat a day, then don’t double or triple that on a whim.  Every time you make a conscious choice or set a boundary with love and intention, you are teaching your child how to do the same for themselves.   Children who understand how to set boundaries are generally more content, more self-aware and healthier (emotionally, physically and mentally).

If you are gearing up for one last summer vacation, a trip to an amusement park or a few glorious days off with your children, enjoy!  I promise you, the more consciously you set loving boundaries around these times, the more you and your children will enjoy them.

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