11 July 2022

Summer is not always a holiday for children

'I hate school'. If teachers had a pound for every time they heard this they would probably be the best paid professionals in the UK but it is quite surprising how many children are reluctant to go home at the end of the day.

While young people resent the demands of the classroom, they often rely on school to offer a routine, food, warmth, stability, a safe environment, a variety of activities and often a listening ear. Six weeks without that wider support network can seem like a lifetime to vulnerable children.

Schools can make things worse. Many pupils tell us that they don’t like games and videos in the summer term and think they are 'a waste of time' or that teachers 'aren’t doing their job'. We have noticed that towards the end of term children do not engage well with others, levels of absenteeism rise and there are more instances of challenging behaviour.

Children, it seems, are reassured by having a structured school day with familiar routines and normal interactions with the school staff right up to the end of term. For lucky ones, this continues in holiday time too with clubs and summer schools where children can see their friends, access an activity they enjoy, feel safe and be around staff that they know.

Others do not fare so well. Many parents will be working throughout the summer holidays so young people may be cared for by other family members, neighbours or friends. From a safeguarding perspective this is worrying but other children will be home alone for the six weeks and this can increase isolation and anxiety.

Busy parents do not always understand the strategies and techniques that help their child to manage anger, distress and other emotional challenges. It is not uncommon for children to revert to maladaptive coping strategies in the holidays, for example, over-eating and sugar fixes, withdrawal or aggressive behaviour or indulging in too much screen time.

Of course, this pattern is not the case for every child in our care. The six week break can be a welcome relief for a child who is being bullied or who feels they are 'no good at anything' at school. Some families tell us that their anxious child is much more relaxed and laid back when they don't have to get up early for school and can live life at their own speed. When I worked in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) we found that students were less likely to turn up for their appointments during the summer holidays. They felt fine within themselves, were coping well so they were not hanging on desperately for each session.

Transition back to school can also be difficult for staff and students. Some struggle to adapt to school routines after the freedom of the summer holidays so we advise schools to start the ‘normal’ routine on day one. Typically, just as the students settle and staff are in the swing of it, it's the October half term break! 

Dr Asha Patel is CEO of Innovating Minds, helping schools develop a whole school approach to mental health by embedding the work of clinical psychologists www.innovatingmindscic.com/


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