Summertime can be a time of fun and freedom for families. Summer can also trigger conflict born out of too much unstructured time, competing priorities and even good, old-fashioned boredom. When family members are also struggling with anxiety, depression, addiction or other mental health issues, summer days can become more stressful than carefree.

Some teens can find summers particularly hard. Disrupted schedules and wide-open calendars can increase anxiety. Vacations can take teens away from their support systems. Young people dealing with body image issues and/or self-harm can feel exposed by warm-weather clothes. People with depression are sometimes shamed for not being able to “cheer up” during a season others find especially fun.

With mindfulness and some preparation, parents can help set the tone for a positive summer experience.

Create a Routine

The experts agree: One of the main summer stressors is the loss of a grounding schedule. Maintaining a routine in the summer—even if it’s relaxed from what you follow during the school year—will help set expectations and calm anxieties. If your children are old enough, you can create this routine together.

Talk about your goals for the next few months. What does each family member want to accomplish? What is it going to take to make that happen? What do you hope to get done each day? What kinds of chores need to be done around the house? Who’s going to do them? What about fun? How does fun fit into the schedule (see below)?

Include the Essentials: Sleep & Sun

Make sure your routine blocks off time for mental-health basics of sleep, sun and play.

Good sleep encourages healthy brains; conversely, people with mental health disorders are more likely to have trouble sleeping. Include reasonable bedtimes, wake-up times and/or sleep-hour goals in your family’s summer routine to encourage healthy wellness.

Parents nagging their kids to go outside during the summer is a stereotype for a good reason: Time in nature has been proven over and over again to be good for both mental and physical health. Brainstorm ways your family can regularly get outdoors together. Post-dinner walks, morning bike rides, pick-up soccer games—find something you can enjoy together.


Summertime opens up all kinds of new possibilities for play. Not only is hangtime plain fun, but research links play to healthy development and mental wellness. Include regular times for fun in your routine. Mix up planned activities with times when you can be more spontaneous. Take turns choosing activities, so everyone gets a chance to lead.

Need some ideas? Try these, or see links to more lists below:

  • Chefs’ Challenge: Make dinner together. Every family member gets to make one dish, but give yourself a twist: Everyone has to include an ingredient from the nearby farmer’s market. Or give yourselves a limited budget and only 15 minutes at the grocery store. See what happens! (You can always order pizza later.)
  • Go Fly a Kite: Really. But make them together first.
  • Family Book Club: Read a book (or series) together over the summer. Pick one night a week to discuss over dinner. If you have widely different tastes, you can each read your own choices and report back, instead.
  • Get Out the Helmets: Choose a new outdoor activity that no one in your family already knows how to do. (Paddleboarding, fishing, skateboarding, rock climbing, etc.) Take a beginners class together.
  • Up to Eleven: Go to an outdoor concert or music festival. Picnic before or during. Give prizes for knowing the most lyrics, most enthusiastic dancing, star-gazing (constellations and celebrities), etc.

Pick Your Battles

Finally, Shelterwood therapists advocate for defining your family’s values and then using them to guide what you’ll make a priority this summer. For example, if your family decides that “doing your very best” is a value, you can choose not to fight about bedtimes. Instead, you can talk about how much sleep your teen is going to need to do their very best the next day. Teaching values-based decision-making can help de-escalate some classic summertime parent-child conflicts.

Strong routines that include sleep, time in nature and plenty of fun can help families not only survive summer but forge stronger bonds and make lasting memories along the way.

Free or Inexpensive Family Activity Ideas:

50 Summer Activities For Free (or Nearly Free)
25 Cheap Summer Activities for Kids
19 Free Things to Do with Your Kids This Summer
100 Fun Summer Activities for KIDS
100 Summer Fun Ideas for Kids and Parents
100 Free Summer Activities for Kids, Adults and Everyone In Between

Is your teen struggling? Have you run out of at-home options? Shelterwood takes admissions throughout the summer—and any day of the year. Reach out to learn more.