Summer is an exciting time! School is out, the days are long, the sun is strong, and you can relax. Well, maybe in theory. I have heard from parents and children alike that summer can be daunting. Some people can experience distress with less routine and structure, especially children. This unease may lead children to experience an increase in anxiety, feel a lack of control, be restless, confused, and/or do creative things to get attention. What is a parent to do?
A schedule may help children feel more in control by having a better understanding of what is next. This does not have to be a Pinterest-worthy schedule, but a simple visual that can be easily updated so that the kids can see what is happening. Here are some tips:
- Get the child involved in creating the schedule so there is more buy in.
- Follow activities that they do not like, such as chores, with something that they do like. This preferred activity can be simple. This approach may improve task completion and help kids learn to tolerate non-preferred activities.
- Speaking of chores, they help teach kids responsibility and to be more appreciative of what they have. You will be preparing them to have life skills for when they older. Kids also may love to be helpers. They will connect with you as they help you around the house. Visuals, such as a chore chart, are a helpful way to assign responsibilities and recognize the completion of chores.
- Schedules are a great tool to help kids learn to cope with unexpected changes. Changes from the expected can be scary and dysregulating. Update the schedule regularly with the child and help him or her process that something is no longer going to happen.
- Include downtime so that kids can learn to deal with boredom. Boredom helps foster creativity and problem solving, which are necessary skills to have throughout life.
- A monthly calendar can help them prepare for when school starts. Cross off the days together as fall approaches.
Connect with People not Things
While it is easy to hand a child a phone or tablet during a busy time, to calm a tantrum, or to keep quiet at a restaurant, this may hinder the child’s ability to develop emotional regulation skills and learn how to connect with others. It should be used sparingly, and more as a reward as opposed to a distraction. A good attachment with your child will go further than an electronic device. Your attachment with your child can be strengthened through play.
- Play is how children learn and process what is going on in their lives. Children often communicate through play, which can give you insights into their thoughts and feelings.
- When talking about their feelings, reassure them that it is ok to feel the emotion even if they did not handle it in a helpful way. This way children feel heard and supported. You can encourage them to think of other ways to deal with the emotion and create a plan for next time.
- You can start simple in your busy day by setting aside 15 minutes to play one-on-one with your child. Encourage your child to pick and lead the activity while you are fully present in the moment. Keep your mind free of the stresses and worries about work, relationships, dinner, bills, travel, or whatever is going on while you join the child in play.
- Allow the child to direct the play while verbalizing what he or she is doing and the emotion that is being expressed. This may seem silly or awkward at first, but you are helping him or her develop self-awareness and self-expression skills. Say simple things, such as “you are so excited,” “you picked up the red truck,” “this game is making you frustrated,” or “you are using purple in your drawing.”
- Also connect with nature by playing outside. Use green spaces with trees and plants to your advantage. Nature has wonderful effects on children’s development, including their self-esteem, emotional regulation, stress reduction, self-discipline, focus, problem-solving skills, creativity, social skills, and intellect.
Emotions are energy and can make the body uncomfortable. When this happens, children may appear anxious, defiant, sluggish, over stimulated, and/or aggressive. A way to help calm the body, or rev it up if needed, is to use sensory activities. You can engage the body to help calm the mind. This will be a beneficial skill to have as children get older. Do you know something that typically stresses your children? Have them do something that they find calming and soothing or gets the energy out before the stressor happens. These activities can include such things as yoga, wrapping in a blanket, therapy balls, animal walks, helping carry a heavy object, bubbles, lotions, music, lava lamps, calming bottles, fidgets/squishees, trampolines, swimming, running, petting an animal, being in a dark/quiet area, or hand games. Each child is different, so it is important to know if the child will find the activities calming, distressing, or energizing.
I hope that you all have a wonderful summer and enjoy the sun!