How to Address Summer Vacation Behavior Problems

Make summer fun but don't let your child's behavior get out of control.
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As the school year draws to a close, kids around the world rejoice. Many parents, however, are less joyful about the long days of summer. For many families, summer vacation means more sibling rivalry, increased defiance, and bigger discipline problems.

If you’re less than excited about your child's summer vacation, here are five discipline strategies to prevent and address behavior problems:

1. Establish Household Rules

Don’t let summer vacation lead to total mayhem. Create household rules specifically for summer vacation.

Summer is also a great time to update your existing rules based on your child’s needs and behavior. Perhaps you can allow for a little later bedtime and become more relaxed about when your children do their chores. 

Determine which behaviors you specifically want to address. Write down your rules and post the list in a highly visible area.

Don't make the list too long—you'll likely overwhelm your kids and the complicated list will become too difficult to enforce. Your household rules should be a simple list, rather than a complete policy and procedure manual.

2. Create Structure to Your Children's Day

Exchanging the structured schedule of the school day for a relaxing vacation can be disastrous for some kids. Without being told what to do or how to spend their time, many kids resort to misbehavior.

While some behavior problems are meant to attract attention, others simply stem from boredom.

Create structure by establishing a simple routine for your child, either throughout the day or after daycare.

Make a rule that chores need to be completed in the morning. Tell your child he can use his electronics or play outside once his work is done. Or, tell your child that the mornings are for reading, doing chores, and completing art projects while the afternoons are for playing outside. 

Younger children need more structured activities to divide up their time. Keep nap time, outdoor time, snack time, and meal times as consistent as possible.

3. Focus on Positive Attention

Defiant and disruptive behavior often stem from children’s desire to gain attention. Each time you scold, warn, or nag your child, you give him attention. And for many children, negative attention is better than no attention at all. 

Give your child plenty of one-on-one attention. Spend time with your child talking, learning, and doing fun activities.

Regular doses of positive attention—even just 10 minutes per day—can go a long way to reducing negative behavior. 

Praise good behavior often. Show appreciation when your child plays quietly, shares with his brother, or follows your directions. Praise is a simple way to reinforce good behavior and prevent attention-seeking behavior.

4. Create a Reward System

Reward systems are one of the fastest ways to address behavior problems. Identify positive behavior that you want to see more often.

Then, use incentives to help your child meet his goals. So while a preschooler may respond well to a sticker chart that reminds him to pick up his toys, an older child may be motivated by a token economy system that helps him use respectful language.  

Keep in mind that rewards don't have to involve expensive items or big activities. There are many free and low-cost rewards that can motivate kids to follow the rules.

5. Follow Through with Consequences

When your child breaks the rules, follow through with a logical consequence. Consequences should focus on teaching—rather than punishing—your child for misbehavior.

Effective consequences will help your child recognize alternatives to misbehavior in the future. For example, if your child doesn’t put his bike away, take away his privilege to ride it for 24 hours. If he refuses to clean his room, don’t allow him to use his electronics until his room is clean. Help your child take responsibility for his misbehavior.

Tell your children the consequences ahead of time whenever possible. Say, "If you don't clean your room before dinner you won't be able to go to the park tonight." Then, leave it up to your child to make a good choice.

Don't make empty threats. Show your child that you mean what you say and you say what you mean. Consistency is the key to getting your child to listen the first time you speak.

A Word From Verywell

All kids are bound to test the rules and get into a bit of mischief during summer vacation. It's a great time for them to test their boundaries.

Try to look at rule violations as your child's attempts to assert her independence. Any trouble she is has managing her behavior is evidence she needs more support and guidance from you.

Most importantly, however, try to enjoy summer vacation to its fullest. Whether you're a working parent or you'll be home with your children, take a deep breath and look for joy in simple pleasures with your kids during summer vacation.

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