Most children can’t wait for summer to begin. They look forward school’s end with more time to play with neighbors and friends. Some children go to camp during the summer, or on trips to the mountains or the beach. It’s a time for new adventures, as well as an opportunity to return to places enjoyed in the past.
Usually the transition to summer takes place without a hitch. Children pick up where they left off the summer before. But those who find change difficult need a little support to relax and enjoy their free time. Here are some strategies you can use to ease them into the new season.
Get on Schedule
Nothing reduces anxiety like a predictable schedule. Get children up in the morning and put them to bed at the same time every day. Consistent times for waking and going to sleep help children ‘reboot’ their circadian rhythm to summer hours. So do regularly scheduled exercise and meals. Knowing what to expect helps children regulate their activity level, and contributes to their sense of safety and well-being.
Establish a Routine
Children like to know what comes next. It helps them anticipate what to expect, and reminds them of past successes during similar activities. Let them know how long something will last. That way they can avoid sudden changes in activity before they are ready to move on.
Use pictures or a list of daily activities that children can refer to throughout the day. Cross things out as they are accomplished. Circle things that didn’t happen because the weather changed or something else came up. Schedule these activities for another day, especially if they are particularly enjoyable or highly motivating.
Be sure the daily schedule includes some ‘anchor’ activities children can do during free time. Activities qualify as ‘anchors’ when they can be done independently, and are soothing in some way: listening to music, reading, playing an instrument, swinging, drawing, shooting hoops, riding a bike.
Sandwich Novel Experiences between Familiar Standbys
Children’s tolerance of novel experiences improves when they begin and end with something that’s familiar. Many children get ready for a school day by selecting their clothes and packing their knapsacks the night before. When they get home in the afternoon they may help with chores or take a little time for themselves. Follow the same routines during the summer when they get ready for camp or a trip to the beach. The comfort of the familiar routine will diminish any anxiety they have about the new activity sandwiched in between.
Prepare for What’s Coming Up
Whether it’s a trip to the local pool or cross country in a plane, give children as much information as possible about what to expect. Talk about who will be there, what they can expect to see, hear, or feel, where the destination is in relationship to their home, and why people enjoy going there. Use books, pictures, media, and the Internet to prepare children for the experience. Encourage them to ask questions, and talk about their hopes and dreams. Trips are the most successful when children feel like the experts long before they arrive.