For many families, the summer is a mixed blessing. Childcare for working parents can be fraught with challenge, and suitable camps aren’t always feasible. On top of that, highly anticipated time away from work can go “south” before you’ve unpacked your bags! Here are some suggestions for making the best of your time off.
You know your child best! – While family and friends are well-meaning, you know your child best. Don’t be pressured into accepting invitations that you know will lead to a disastrous outcome! You’ve heard the definition of insanity … doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result! Be honest about what you’re getting yourselves into, and don’t feel guilty about having to say no. That being said, with the right pre-planning and support, your child might be just fine. Read on.
Maintain (or build in) some type of routine – Most of us revel in the relaxed pace of the summer. Not having to stick to a schedule, or rush out the door first thing in the morning is a treat. However, for children with neuro-developmental challenges, the transition from one extreme to the other can be anxiety producing at best. While you’re on holidays, try to build some type of predictability into your day. For example, have meals at roughly the same time, or set and maintain a “holiday” bedtime. This will give your child some type of consistency that he or she can count on.
Be sure your child has some idea of what to expect – Many parents tell me that they can feel the tension mounting as the summer approaches. School trips, schedules turned upside-down and unexpected transitions are unsettling! To give your child a sense of security, consider talking about the upcoming week and jotting down some of the events that she can expect. Without painting yourself into a corner, giving your child some type of roadmap will allow her to anticipate what’s coming down the tubes. You will need to decide how much advanced notice you give your child, depending on the events and how she might feel about them. As noted above, you know your child best.
Use common sense – If your child is stressed by too much environmental noise or dynamic goings-on, bare this in mind when making plans. A family reunion might be your cup of tea, but it may be a nightmare for your child. Consider ways to make a major event more manageable for him. Give him a job that he can do competently to busy himself in a social setting (passing chips for example). This will allow him to have brief interactions but stay “on task” in a dynamic, unstructured setting. Ask a trusted friend or relative that your child is comfortable with to buddy-up with him, or take a quiet break away from the action. Or, be sure to have some pre-planned activities for him to do if things get to be too much. A bit of planning and forethought can make a big gathering more enjoyable for everyone – particularly your child.
Praise successful outcomes – When your child demonstrates resilienceand manages in a situation that would otherwise cause a meltdown, don’t let it go unnoticed! Who doesn’t love a “gold star” when it’s well deserved? Be sure to avoid the “good job” trap, and tell your child why you’re proud of her. For example, “Jenny, I’m very proud of you! You played very nicely with your cousins. I really liked the way you took turns and each got to choose a game.” In RDI terms, we call this creating positive “episodic memories” (reinforcing moments of resilience and success for mental retrieval at a later time). If you happen to snap a picture of such a moment, put one up in a high-traffic area of your home to remind your child of her accomplishment.
Set limits – When holiday fun begins, we often throw limit-setting out the window. This can be very dangerous. What well-meaning parents don’t realize is that clear, consistently set limits reduce anxiety! If your child knows what is expected of him, and is able to operate successfully within the boundaries of them, he will be much more secure and at ease. While this seems odd, without the comfort of knowing that red will always mean “stop” and green will always mean “go,” an ever-changing rulebook will be both confusing and invite “testing the waters!”
To summarize, some common sense and planning ahead will put more fun into your summer, and help you avoid some common pitfalls.
If you have questions or thoughts on what you’ve read in this issue of “To the Spectrum and Beyond!” please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.