Eleven weeks. Eleven weeks?!! Can you feel the anxiety rising? If you are a parent of a child with social-emotional developmental delays, a 70+ day break from school can be very worrisome. Omitting the structure and routine of a five-day school week brings various challenges to a family. How can you help your child adapt to that huge change, while simultaneously working hard to prevent a social slide or loss of social skills between now and mid-August? Here are some recommendations.
The domain of social skills is vast and complicated. Knowing where to begin can be daunting. Before the summer break begins, ask your child’s teacher, behavior specialist, or speech-language pathologist for some simple goals for you and your child to work towards. These can be goals/objectives recently mastered at school and which need to be generalized to a new setting like home or a sports practice. Or consider choosing one or two social skills that your child is making progress towards at progress report time. Inquire about reading materials or visuals that would help.
Enroll in camps and schedule play-dates.
There are a variety of summer camps (e.g., recreation departments, sports, hobby-related) and mini-classes (e.g., social skills, art, dance, music, martial arts) available to children in the greater Cleveland area. Exposing your children to same-aged peers is important in order to maximize the number of learning opportunities and chances to rehearse the social skills they recently learned.
Access to camps/classes limited due to a rural location, or scheduling conflicts? Regularly-scheduled play-dates are a good alternative. Ask your child’s teacher for names of peers who are a good match skill-wise and personality-wise. Reach out to their parents. Chances are, they are looking for social opportunities as well!
Enlist the help of professionals if your child has atypical challenges.
Hesitating to make a decision about summer camps/classes because of your child’s significant delays or problem behaviors? You are not alone! It is human nature to avoid situations that have been difficult in the past. Seeing your child struggle to keep up with peers who are more advanced verbally and/or socially is difficult. Being the parent of “that kid” who pushes, grabs, is verbally offensive, etc. can be embarrassing and stressful.
Luckily, there are a variety of services for children with unique needs. Here is a fantastic guide to finding summer services for youth with disabilities throughout Greater Cleveland: 2017 Summer and Beyond Directory. When calling around to find a good fit, ask specific questions about who will be helping your child when he/she faces a frustrating scenario. Inquire about the techniques they use, and see if those approaches are consistent with what helps your child.
Model positive communication and interactions.
A word of caution: As busy parents, it is easy to become lax on self-censorship of what we say in front of our children. What comes out of our mouths seems innocent enough…a simple complaint about an inconsiderate neighbor, a ramble about a friend who did something annoying, muttering impatiently about a slow restaurant server or the driver in front of us (full disclosure…I am guilty of these, too!) The problem: children soak in things they see and hear like a sponge. And then imitate.
Working on your child’s patience towards others? Model patient behaviors. Targeting kind words with peers? Try biting your tongue whenever you face your triggers, especially if those negative comments or comebacks are yearning to escape your lips! Save your venting for a child-free setting, or rant when you know your child isn’t listening. It requires hard work, but the payout is worth it…these parenting strategies are proven to help promote positive social behaviors and interactions in children.
Talk, talk, and talk some more.
Social pragmatics, defined as the language skills a child uses in daily interactions with others, is an area of development that can be challenging for children. A variety of deficits may exist, such as talking too much/little, choosing inappropriate topics, changing topics, talking too much about himself/herself, and interrupting.
How can a parent target social pragmatics throughout the summer? Via conversations, and a lot of them. Converse with your child frequently. Make the lunch and dinner table gadget-free. Implement a daily parent-child “chit chat” time with no distractions or interruptions. Great places for conversations are in the car, during a walk, and in bed before story-time (note: this may not be the best time for a child demonstrating bedtime refusal!) Model appropriate conversation starters. Praise your child when independent skills are demonstrated. If stuck, assist your child by offering a choice of topic or question (e.g., “you can ask me about my favorite vacation…or about what I want to do for fun tomorrow”).
A bonus: this strategy not only promotes social communication skills, but also nurtures and strengthens the parent-child relationship. A win-win!