Great memories were triggered as we cut into the first watermelon of the summer season. Memories from childhood which meant days without schedules, sleeping in late and staying outside playing until those last beams of the sun disappeared. When I became a mother I too looked forward to summer which meant a reprieve from early morning car pools and racing to the next activity. But for the family with foster or adopted children these relaxed days with no schedules can create anxiety. Children from difficult backgrounds require us to adapt our schedules and lifestyles in many ways. This includes those lazy days of summer. Here are some things to consider as you enter summer season.
ROUTINE AND PREDICTABILITY: The routine of school provides security for many children. An uncertain daily schedule can create a feeling of anxiety for your child. To provide that routine consider summer school as an option. Many school systems will have summer school that would allow your child to continue to have structure in their day and to remediate those skills they may need for the next school year. If your child has been home longer than a year, then a day camp with lots of structure might be an option for you. If there is no summer school in your area and day camp is not an option then, have a college student or older teenager to provide tutoring each morning with your child. This will provide structure for your adopted child and allow you some time with your other children. Set a schedule that you can follow each day so that your child knows what to expect. For younger children this may need to be a pictorial schedule. When the schedule varies be sure to take a few days before the change to prepare your child for the upcoming difference in the routine.
STAY-CATION: For those families recently home ( Lifeline defines “recently home” as less than a year) you are still in the process of building attachment. This may be the year to consider a “stay-cation”. Don’t plan a big vacation to Disney World where the child might become over stimulated and overwhelmed, then you become frustrated that you spent the week in the hotel room with an out of control child. Short day trips might be a better option. Consider memberships at local attractions for the summer such as the pool, zoo, or children’s museum. This allows for short day visits as your child becomes accustomed to new sights, sounds and sensations. It is much easier to leave after an hour if home is close by, you have not lost the cost of your ticket and can return at another time.
RAINY DAYS: Prepare for those rainy days when you can’t play outside, clear the garage and set up a mini obstacle course. A large refrigerator box can become anything from an Indie race car, airplane or castle and fort. Sit and spins, small riding toys and mini trampolines will help get in the movement that they will need for the day. Pull out the sheets and build tents over couches and dining room tables. Collect all the pillows from beds and have pillow piles in the family room. Work in the kitchen. Chopping, stirring and kneading bread can meet proprioceptive needs for the child and promote great memories as you work together on a meal or snack for the family.
CAMP AND GRANDMAS: While a week at camp and grandma’s may be an American tradition for many children during the summer, you may need to forego or modify this tradition for the foster/adopted child. Sending your child away may feel like abandonment to them. Camp can mimic an orphanage setting which could trigger negative memories for your child and elicit negative responses or behavior from your child. Consider a day camp rather than an overnight camp experience. Send your other children to camp and grandma’s and keep your new foster or adopted child close to home for more one on one attention and investment in attachment.
¨ Maintain a routine and regular daily schedule.
¨ Consider the individual needs of each child in the home and plan activities that will meet each child’s needs.
¨ Plan activities during the day that use large muscle groups such as swimming, biking and swinging to promote balance and a sense of spatial orientation. However, monitor closely so that your child does not become overly stimulated or tired.
¨ Intersperse rest time or calm activities during the day so that child is not over stimulated.
¨ Offer snacks or food every two hours so that blood sugar levels are maintained to prevent “melt downs”. When not in a regular routine this can sometimes be overlooked.
¨ Stay hydrated. Hydration has been proven to reduce aggression and is especially important during the hot days of summer when dehydration can occur quickly.
¨ Over prepare your child for a new activity days before the event. The 4th of July can be overwhelming if a child does not know what to expect. Consider all the senses that day will stimulate. Discuss the sounds of the day from the parade that morning to the fireworks that night. The new food experiences, crowds and the lights of sparklers and fireworks. You might want to take two cars to the event so that if Plan A; we all stay all day doesn’t work then you have Plan B; some of us may come home and watch fireworks on TV or from the safety of our patio.
¨ The annual family reunion may be great fun for you but all those “strangers” may be overwhelming for your child. Consider where you are in building attachment with your child. If your child is still showing indiscriminate affection to strangers then you will need to educate your extended family on how they should interact with your child. Suggest “High fives” this year for relatives then next year your child may be ready for the big hug from Aunts and Uncles. Make sure you are still meeting your child’s needs during this event.
¨ If you do travel make frequent stops during a long car trip to provide that much needed deep muscle activity; find a rest stop where you can throw a Frisbee, play a quick game of tag, or toss a beach ball (easy to deflate and carry). This will help keep melt downs at bay.
CONCLUSION: Take advantage of all the fun things the warmer weather allows. Have fun and join your child in play. Run through the sprinkler together; have water balloon battles, make mud pies and sand castles. Many of these activities will provide sensory input that will promote physical growth and brain development for your child. Riding bikes, jumping on the trampoline, swimming and climbing on the play set will develop core strength and literally brings down the chemistry of fear and enhances the chemicals that promote healing for the child. Hopefully following these tips and guidelines will leave you and your child full of wonderful summer memories and longing for more of those “lazy, hazy days of summer”.
Developed by: Lynn Beckett, LBSW
Resources: Kranowitz, C. S. (2005). The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder. New York: Skylight Press.
Purvis, K. B., Cross, D. R. & Sunshine, W. L. (2007). The Connected Child: Bringing Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family. New York: McGraw-Hill.