By Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox
As camp season closes and schooltime is on the near horizon, filling the few remaining weeks is a parent’s challenge, and an opportunity. Children who have been away at camp, or at day camps, or in learning programs or in summer school have been busy and, we hope, productive. Many of them have had great fun, connecting with friends, off on adventures, and taking a break, more or less, from the intense schedules which make up their lives as Orthodox Jewish youngsters. The challenge begins with down time. What to do? Beyond unpacking, cleaning, purchasing school supplies and scrambling for chavrusa choices, how can a parent fill the waking hours of a family of active children?
One important suggestion is maintaining an interest in your kids. Encourage them to share with you their experiences in camp. Show interest in the good times, their growth moments, their insights about life away from home, and their struggles. Camp is a laboratory, where youngsters get to experiment with a level of independence blended with a level of rule compliance. It is a chance to experiment with making new friends, encountering new predicaments, adapting to schedules, camp food, and learning to tidy up after themselves. How did it all go? How did they do socially? How did they do with the various adults and young adults who were their teachers, bunk counselors, team rivals and gatekeepers? Hear them out. Reinforce the positive notes and be supportive of them as they discuss struggles, most of which will be normal developmental struggles as they grow through the camp processes.
A second suggestion is to begin preparing them for return to school and to yeshiva. For some children, the move back to studiousness is an organic one, desired and anticipated. Many young people look forward to reuniting with classmates, meeting the new rebbe, learning the new gemara. Some are self-starters and will already be tasting the new learning with eagerness before the first day of school. Others are more reluctant about giving up the summer’s relative freedom. A parent’s task is to talk this through, remain supportive yet to prepare their child for readjusting to the demands of a full school day. You want to propel them towards some level of enthusiasm and a full acceptance of their commitment to school rules and proper conduct. This is a discussion which all parents want to undertake with their children, partnering in the chinuch process by prepping their child about making the most out of their Torah education, in mind, heart and spirit.
A third suggestion is gratitude cultivation. Studies on stress and human development point to the prized role of our resilience and contentment, which stems from our learning to notice and articulate our gratitude for the goodness around us. Teach this to your children. Model it for them. Take time with family to share the inspiring lesson, the moving message, the uplifting experience, which helped brighten your day. Have them do the same. This will not only help shape their positive outlook in general, but will facilitate their viewing parents and siblings with greater appreciation. This anchors children to believe that HaShem’s world is, essentially, a friendly place, one in which they want to take an active role. No time for the summertime blues. End of summer is for the summertime boost.
Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox is a forensic and clinical psychologist, and director of Chai Lifeline Crisis Services. To contact Chai Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis helpline, call 855-3-CRISIS or email [email protected]. Learn more at www.chailifeline.org/crisis