A smidge of structure

For some kids, the best part about summer is the freedom. For others, the unstructured days leave them feeling restless and untethered.

“In general, kids benefit from structure and predictability,” says Dr. Kyle Johnson, a pediatric psychiatrist at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to schedule every hour of their day.

“I’m a big believer in kids having downtime and time to be creative and play,” he says. “You can structure a place and time for creative activities, but not have an agenda.”

Camps are a great way to add structure to the freeform days of summer, but if sleeping away from home feels like a big mountain to climb, start small with shorter practice runs.

“Have a sleepover at a friend’s house or grandma’s house,” says Dr. Johnson. “Work on coping skills for anxiety, like deep breathing and muscle relaxation. And it can help to take something from home as a transitional object, like a memory box.”

Having a set bedtime and wakeup call helps provide a sense of structure to kids’ days, too.

“I’m not going to say every kid needs to keep the same schedule over the summer that they did in school,” says Dr. Johnson. “It can be later, but it should be regular.”

As for teenagers, whose circadian rhythms naturally shift later, it’s tempting to let them sleep all day – but that’s a recipe for disaster when school starts.

“If they end up sleeping on a schedule that their body clock dictates, like 3 a.m. to noon, then they can’t expect to jump to a much earlier sleep-wake schedule as soon as school starts,” says Dr. Johnson.

After all, summer will be over before you know it!


Pack it up

Setting out for a day trip by car or foot? It only takes one small mistake to turn a short walk in the woods into an overnight ordeal. Be prepared by always packing these essentials:

To learn more about keeping your child safe in the summer months, talk to your child’s pediatrician, visit the OHSU Doernbecher Tom Sargent Safety Center or call OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at (503) 346-0640.

  • First aid (including extra Band-Aids, ointment and gauze)
  • Map and compass
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Insect repellent
  • Compressible jacket
  • Rain poncho
  • Water filter
  • Extra energy bars
  • Multipurpose tool
  • Headlamp
  • Whistle
  • Fire starter
  • Mylar heat blanket
  • Special health needs (e.g., EpiPen, insulin)


This article was written by Danielle Centoni and originally appeared in the Portland Monthly 2018 Kids’ Health Annual magazine.