As the ’90s hit song goes, “Summer, summer, summertime. Time to sit back and unwind.” Summertime gives kids a chance to let loose and unwind from a hectic school year and rigid schedule. But, is it possible to have a summer routine that is too relaxed?
Akron Children’s Obesity Medicine pediatrician Dr. Marnie Walston says yes. Studies show without structure, kids tend to gain excess weight and their sleep routines get disrupted.
“It’s good to relax, spend time with family and have fun this summer,” said Dr. Walston of Akron Children’s Healthy Active Living program. “However, if kids let loose too hard it can be difficult to make up for those losses when the school year rolls around again.”
Routines provide an expected rhythm in a child’s life that helps him feel safe and establish good habits.
This is not to say parents should schedule their child every minute of the day. Instead, the goal to establishing a summer routine is to keep kids on a consistent schedule to provide some stability and organization to the day. There still will be plenty of time for leisure at home, playing with friends and spontaneous activities.
“A little structure is critical for kids’ growth and development,” said Dr. Walston. “There is mounting evidence that shows kids who have a routine perform better in school, have good mental health and maintain a healthy weight.”
She offers parents tips for a healthy summer routine that helps kids maintain happiness, as well as good eating, physical activity and sleep — and still have time to unwind.
Eat scheduled meals and snacks
Kids tend to graze more during the summer months, rather than have scheduled, regular meals. This can lead to overeating and unhealthy food choices.
“Keep in mind the right times to eat during the day,” said Dr. Walston. “Typically, kids should eat breakfast within 1 hour of waking up, and avoid long gaps between meals and snacks. Don’t let kids go more than 3 to 4 hours without eating.”
If parents are working and kids are at home, she recommends parents pack them a lunch. It helps kids make better choices — and gets a fruit and vegetable in there — instead of grabbing something unhealthy.
Make sure kids get enough sleep
Most school-age kids should be getting between 9-11 hours of sleep each night. Try to keep your kids’ bedtime consistent over the summer, even if it is later than during the school year.
“It’s OK if kids are going to bed a little later, as long as they’re getting up a little later,” said Dr. Walston. “Keeping a set bedtime routine will help maintain your child’s overall health and help him transition back to his school routine more easily.”
Dr. Walston warns parents not to push bedtimes past 11 p.m. or midnight. When kids stay up later, they tend to eat more calories. Then, if they wind up taking a nap the next day, they’re not burning as many calories. This unhealthy cycle can lead to unwanted weight gain.
Keep up the activity
Kids tend to be more sedentary during the summer months, especially when it comes to screen time. Inactivity has led to increases in obesity, diabetes and depression.
At a minimum, parents should urge kids to get active for at least 60 minutes each day and keep limits on screen time to 2 hours or less each day.
“Encourage outdoor play or plan family outings as alternatives to electronics,” said Dr. Walston. “Sports camps, volunteering in the community, a play date at the park or walking the zoo are all great — and fun — ways to keep kids active this summer.”