Monday, June 23, 2014

Kids need structure and routine, even in the summer

We are just a few weeks away from summer vacation and already I can see the behavior problems creeping in. Boredom is one of the main culprits of behavior problems in children. The lack of predictability that goes hand in hand with summer and the absence of regular routines can cause stress in children and can in turn cause them to act out.

Parents may overlook this factor. After all, what child doesn’t love being out of school? Adults assume that most children would be happier during the stress-free days of summer. But this isn’t always so. Many children do much better with routines that are more synonymous with the school year. When a child can anticipate what is coming it increases his sense of control and independence and therefore encourages cooperation. Having a familiar routine builds confidence and decreases anxiety.  

But all is not lost just because it is summer. If your child is not attending a summer camp or doesn’t have a daily activity to depend on, it is still possible to build structure and routines into the day. Some useful tips are:

- Try to maintain times and sequence of events as structured as possible. For example, if a child is used to eating breakfast as soon as he wakes up, stick to this routine.

- Since children feel more secure when they know what to expect, it is best to plan the day ahead of time and discuss it your child the day before.

- Build some choices into the day to help your child feel some control and nurture self-esteem.

- Use visual schedules (pictures, drawings, etc.) to cue a child about what is happening. 

- Present scheduled of activities in a positive manner and try not to be overly rigid. Some flexibility is always necessary. If you remain flexible and adjust your expectations, it will be easier to maintain a stress-free environment for your children.

- Plan physical outlets daily. Kids need to burn energy. Sitting in front of the computer or playing video games for hours long is a recipe for disaster. Planning play-dates at the park or at the beach could be good ideas. Going hiking and bike riding is always fun. 

- Watch what they eat. If your child is not overweight some “junk-food” is OK as long as you balance it with healthy food. Food is the main source of energy. Too much sugar and processed food have a direct effect on mood changes. When in doubt, consult with you pediatrician or a nutritionist.

-  Plan some quality one-on-one time with your kids where they are the “boss” and you play with them. 

And finally, always include some free time in the day – children need some down time and it can be exhausting to be overly scheduled.

And have a happy summer!

 

Daniel Adatto, BCBA

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