Children, especially those from trauma backgrounds, tend to find stability and safety in structured, predictable environments. Those two words are not typically used to describe holidays or winter breaks. Additionally, holiday breaks are short in nature, so the transitions are swift and bring abrupt changes and challenges in a short amount of time. Add cold weather and dark days to the calendar, and children can encounter a number of circumstances that create a storm of obstacles for their wellbeing.
To help children transition in these times, Lynn Beckett recommends using the following tips to help create a sense of routine and predictability for children. Lynn is a vital part of Lifeline’s Counseling and Education team and helps families navigate post-adoption challenges.
- Ensure adequate rest. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that children between ages 5-12 need to receive 10-11 hours of sleep each night, and teenagers 13-18 need to receive 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep every night. Schedules are often turned off during holiday breaks, and there is a temptation to stay up late and sleep late. However, adhering to sleep schedules as much as possible will help children self-regulate during the break and also be prepared for success afterwards. When schedules are interrupted, re-establish sleep routines as quickly as possible.
- Practice the morning routine. Make sure your child knows what they can expect in the mornings. For younger children and new English learners, try posting a pictorial schedule in one or more prominent places. Include what tasks need to be completed before the bus comes or getting in the vehicle, etc. A written chart may work best for older children. When school is starting back, help children get into a habit of preparing clothing, masks, backpacks, lunches, and other items the night before so that no one is rushed, and important items are not forgotten.
- Be pro-active in meeting physical needs. The holidays have likely brought excess sugary foods and less healthy eating habits. Regular physical activity may also have temporarily waned. As the holidays wind down, be proactive to make protein-rich, healthy snacks available and encourage sufficient hydration. Water, healthy snacks, chewing gum, and suckers also can help prevent blood sugar drops and can assist children in working out anxiety they have encountered. Additionally, plan several daily physical movement activities. Go for a walk; play with new toys like a bike or trampoline; do crab walks, jumping jacks or wall push-ups. Gross muscle movements aid in regulation; fine motor skills like playing with LEGOs, blocks, or coloring can also help to calm and encourage a creative outlet for active imaginations.
- Reset the remainder of the academic year. Through the past semester, you have been able to observe and consider the effectiveness of the educational plans for your child. If you feel that your child’s plan needs to be refined, request an IEP or 504 meeting to discuss ways to better meet your child’s needs. Bridge Educational Services can be a great resource to provide testing, advocacy, and planning for your child’s educational and learning needs. Finishing the year strong means taking steps to begin strong, and Lifeline is here to help.
- Adjust traditional expectations. Especially after an extended time of dysregulation, children may need to work out stresses of the day and bring their cortisone levels down before being able to focus on tasks like homework. Consider having a play time with good proprioceptive movement such as running, biking, swinging, and trampoline time. Then, follow this time with calming activities and take 10-20 minutes to reconnect with your child by talking with them about their day.
- Limit screen time. The lights and stimulation from screens can inhibit the ability to rest and learn, especially for children whose brains have been affected by trauma. New toys and a relaxed holiday schedule may have allowed for more screen time than usual. As school gets close or back into routine, providing limitations for screen time will be helpful for children for sleep, regulation, and learning.
- Consider effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder. If your child seems to be having difficulty transitioning back to routine, consider the darker, shorter days and the possibility of SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Although your child may appear lazy, disobedient, or to have lost all sense of discipline over the holidays, he may be experiencing the “winter blues.” Read more about how SAD can affect your child and how to help here.
- Be aware of sensory issues. The winter months can bring many sensory challenges for children: itchy sweaters, tight coats, hats, long socks, gloves, static, dry skin and the need for lotion, and different foods. Be patient with your child and help her to voice feelings and discuss compromises, if possible.
Lynn is a TBRI practitioner and helps many families through our Parent Coaching ministry. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s behavior and would like to talk with Lynn or another specialist at Lifeline, please contact us at 205-967-0811 or here.