For most children and families, summertime is a much anticipated time of the year to get off of the hamster wheel of homework, the daily schedule, and routine.
For children with special needs, summertime, and the lack of structure that it brings, can lead to anxiety, depression, and oppositional defiant behaviors. It can put additional stress and anxiety on the parents and caretakers. Although most children (and adults, too) thrive on structure, those with special needs depend of the safety and predictability that comes with school.
Four Tips for Summer:
1. Maintain a schedule. Even though your child may not have any legitimate reason to follow a schedule, it is best to maintain a regular daily routine. If possible, follow the same sleep and meal schedule as during the school year, even on weekends. It is tempting to allow children to stay up late on vacations, weekends, and holidays, but it will only throw them off of their game, and bring out the worst in them. Keeping them on a routine schedule will allow them to feel safe, comfortable, and subsequently more cooperative.
2. Seek out support. Having a child or children at home for the summer is a full-time job. Having a child with special needs at home is even harder. Take advantage of your support network. Allow others to help give you a much-needed break. If you can afford it, hire a trusted sitter to allow you some free time. Investigate camps that are a good fit for your child, and are able to accommodate his/her needs. Taking time to resuscitate your mind and body will make you a better parent in both the short and long run.
3. Have a behavioral plan. Encouraging and rewarding positive behaviors will help facilitate them to continue. Positive reinforcement, such as stickers, words of encouragement, and other small gestures can make a difference. Ignoring the negative behavior whenever possible is important as well. The child will learn that he/she will not be reinforced, even negatively, for poor choices that are made.
4. Be prepared for some rough seas. No matter how well prepared you may be for the summer, it will be extremely difficult at times. Your child may be more difficult than usual, or may regress at times. Allow yourself a break to be human, knowing that you may not be able to avoid it all the time. Yelling and getting physical only makes the situation worse, and models for the child that that is an appropriate method of problem solving. Stay firm. Giving in to the child only teaches them that if they yell and scream, they will get exactly what they want.
With all of this in mind, don’t forget to enjoy your children. Keep them busy and scheduled, while taking time out for yourself.
A happy parent euqals a happy child.
Dr. Stacey Jones is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Coral Gables; she also facilitates a monthly support group for family members and caregivers of individuals with special needs at the Friendship Circle, located at 8700 SW 112 St. To register your child as a camper or as a volunteer, visit www.friendshipcirclemiami.org or contact Nechama Harlig at 305-234-5654.