While many children will be thrilled by the end of the school year, anticipating lazy days and sleeping in, the prospect of summer break isn’t always that pleasurable version for parents. And if you have a child with emotional or developmental issues who is challenging in the best of times, long breaks can in fact be a source of great stress. To help keep your child on track this summer, try following these guidelines:
Maintain your schedule. You may not able to maintain the degree of structure that school provides, but it is helpful to stick to the school year’s sleep and wake schedule as much as possible. It can be very tempting to allow your child to stay up late and sleep in – especially on weekends, when you want to do the same – but in the long run, sticking to the same schedule pays off by keeping your child more comfortable, and hence more cooperative.
Make it visual. Kids who thrive on predictability benefit from posted schedules that outline what will happen throughout the day. Depending on your child’s developmental level, simple pictures may also help.
Make plans. Try to schedule activities, as early as possible, and keep your kids in the loop. This can mean anything from “we are going to visit Grandma and Grandpa for the afternoon” to having a set routine, weather permitting, you’ll go for a walk, the playground or the pool. Scheduling one “activity” for the day offers kids a center of gravity, in a sense, around which the rest of the day can be structured.
For children with special needs, it can be tough arranging play dates. In the Cleveland area, Connecting For Kids offers a variety of playgroups and outings for children and their families.
Get outside. Home can become a safe cocoon, especially for children with sensory issues, who can become overstimulated by sights and sounds, or those who have trouble with social interactions. But, no child should spend hours in front of their screens. Physical activity and some good ol’ vitamin D are good for the soul – not only for the kids, but for the parent as well.
Maintain-or create- a behavioral system. Set your children and teens up for success by communicating exactly what behaviors are expected of them and the rewards and consequences that result from their good/desired behavior. Choose two or three positive behaviors to nurture with consistent and positive reinforcement, and try to ignore as many of the negative behaviors as possible.
For younger kids, a sticker chart or puff balls in a jar can be great visuals – as well as immediate reinforcement – to visually see the reward for a desired behavior. Let them help decide what they want to earn. Maybe 5 stickers or 5 puff balls allows them 5 extra minutes on screens or an extra book during bedtime routine. Be sure to involve them in the process and be consistent with whatever system you decide.
Find support and give yourself grace. Parents of kids with developmental, emotional, or behavioral difficulties often feel isolated and lonely. Heck, any parent can feel this way. Don’t feel bad booking a sitter and taking time for yourself – self-care is critical for your mental and emotional health.
If you can’t afford a sitter, close friends with or without kids can also provide good company and support for parents, even if mom or dad is still doing the supervising. It is always nice to have an extra adult or even an older child around to help keep on extra eye on yours. And give yourself grace, you are doing a great job.