Thoughtful Parenting: Start the summer off right

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Thought patterns and overcoming obstacles

There is more to the challenging outdoor adventure than the great memories it will create. When kids have the opportunity to overcome obstacles in a healthy way, it can change negative thought patterns in the brain. Those neural pathways that used to say “I can’t” when presented with a challenge subtly will shift to “Maybe I can.”

Our brains react to events based on previous experiences, thus creating patterns of response. If we as adults feel stressed every time our mortgage payment is due, it takes work on our part to teach the brain to react more calmly.

Likewise, throughout time, as kids are presented with challenges like a short backpacking trip or a more difficult bike ride, their brains develop a pattern that allows them to handle adversity with the knowledge that they are capable of accomplishment. Thus, the same situation that caused the “I can’t” reaction through experience develops into “Heck yeah, I can!”

Ah, summer ... at last! Gone is the chaos of racing the kids from school to practice, hurrying through dinner so they can finish their homework and getting them to bed as they whine, “But Mom, it’s still light outside.” 

As I look ahead at my summer calendar, trying desperately to find a free weekend to go camping with friends, I am struck by the reality of how this treasured and action-packed season often comes and goes in the blink of an eye.

I find that if I don’t schedule my most precious summer activities early, I often think to myself in September, “How did the entire summer go by and we never even ... ?”

To that end, this article is about intentionally creating the summer you want for yourself and your family. 

1. Create a vision: This involves some reflection. What is important to you about summer? What are the wonderful summer experiences you had as a kid that you would like to share with your family?

2. Brainstorm: Have a family meeting or family dinner where everyone can suggest all of their ideas for family summer fun. Remember, there is no judgment in brainstorming, just listen mindfully and jot down everyone’s ideas. This is a great time for reflection and gives you insight into the things that are really important to the members of your family.

3. Prioritize: Identify activities that all or most of the family felt were important. Put these on the calendar first. You will want to acknowledge individual desires, as well, but for the purpose of this activity, try to stick with full family activities. 

Pick a challenging outdoor adventure. Pick an activity (ideally one that no one in the family has done before) and make it this summer’s adventure. I encourage you to pick an outdoor activity because being in nature lends itself to being present and engaged with your family without many of the distractions that can get in the way of our authentic connection with one another. Ideas may include a family bike ride to an ambitious destination, running or walking a long race, climbing a mountain, an overnight backpacking trip, rafting a river or going on a long hike. Even the youngest of children can get a great sense of accomplishment by hiking to the top of Howelsen Hill.

I wish you all the best for a summer you will remember and treasure always.

Kristen Race, Ph.D., is the founder of Mindful Life, an organization dedicated to providing mindful solutions to help families become more resilient to the stress in their lives. She has been a member of the First Impressions of Routt County Executive Committee for the past five years.

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