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Helping Children Adjust to Summer Break

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By Dr. Erin Kardel

For many children, the end of the school year is met with excitement for a break from the monotonous weekly schedule of classes, homework, and after-school activities. Summer means long, unstructured days, later bedtimes, and lazy mornings. Although this lack of structure may be thrilling for some children, it can be a difficult adjustment for many, especially those with mental health issues such as anxiety, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders.

Without the predictable routine that school provides, children who suffer from these disorders are more prone to anxiety, oppositional behavior, and tantrums. This makes summer an especially difficult time not only for children but also for their parents.

If your child is struggling with the adjustment to summer break, here are some tips to help make the season more enjoyable for your family:

Try to Maintain Your Schedule
It is often helpful to try to maintain the general schedule you follow during the school year, to the extent possible, including mealtimes and bedtimes. The longer days make it especially tempting to allow children to stay up later in the evenings or sleep later in the mornings, but the disruption in their sleep schedule, particularly if it is different from one day to the next, can be jarring for some children. Maintaining consistent bedtimes and wake times will help your child obtain better quality sleep, which will lead to more consistent and positive moods.

Make a Calendar
Kids, especially those on the autism spectrum, can benefit from a posted schedule that outlines what will happen each day, including daily tasks (e.g., “7 am: get dressed, 7:15 am: brush teeth,”), meal times, activities, and bedtime. Having basic consistency and structure to each day gives kids a sense of stability and security. You can even enlist your child’s help in creating the schedule, allowing him or her to pick certain activities. Many children do best when offered a few choices in activities in order to feel a sense of control in their schedules, but it is best to keep options limited to two or three activities, as too many can feel overwhelming.

Try to schedule as many activities throughout the summer as possible, and keep your kids updated on the plans. Even just one scheduled activity a day can give kids a guidepost around which to center the rest of their day. A morning activity, followed by lunch and a nap (for younger children) or quiet time (such as a movie) can make the day feel much more manageable for both children and parents.

Many families rely on camps to help give structure to their children’s summer break. If camp isn’t a possibility for your family, try to find something your child enjoys (e.g., trips to the pool, playground, bike rides, etc.) to get them outside and away from screens. When planning, ensure that you include at least one physical activity every day. For families with more than one child, getting out of the house can also help with what can feel like endless sibling bickering.

Beyond a daily schedule, create weekly and monthly calendars that show the summer’s activities, trips, camps, planned house guests, etc. Creating these long-term calendars helps children understand what is coming up so that they can plan for it and also allows them to have activities to look forward to.

Help Children Feel a Sense of Purpose
They might not admit it, or even realize it, but coursework and school activities give children a sense of purpose. Unstructured days can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety since they are no longer feeling that sense of purpose that school provides. Children want to feel needed and that their role in the world is important. You can help them find this sense of purpose by giving them chores, helping them find volunteer opportunities or even summer jobs for older children.

Engage Your Child’s Mind
Although students, teachers, and parents are all often equally grateful for a break from schoolwork and homework, research shows that many children lose some academic progress during the long summer vacation. For older children who are given summer assignments, help your child break the assignment up to be completed throughout the break. When students save their work for the end of the summer, certain skills may be harder to recall and they will likely feel the stress of cramming work in at the last moment which can lead to increased tension for both children and parents. For all children, find activities to do throughout the summer that engage the mind, including games, puzzles, trips to museums, pleasure reading books, etc.

Summer is meant to be a carefree, relaxing break from the typical school year, but most children (and adults alike!) function best with some structure and routine. The entire summer doesn’t have to be structured, but maintaining some consistent routines (such as bedtime) and planning some activities in advance can reduce stress for the whole family during this time and help to make it more enjoyable for everyone.

Dr. Erin Kardel, a well-respected and highly credentialed clinician, earned her Doctoral Degree in Clinical Psychology from The George Washington University and her Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from American University. Today, Dr. Kardel is a licensed Clinical Psychologist at NeuroScience, Inc. (NSI), a Herndon, VA-based practice where she specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and also serves as an investigator for NSI’s qualitative and medication research studies. Her CBT treatment emphasizes behavioral interventions, such as exposure and response prevention (ERP), and biofeedback, as well as collaboration with families, schools, and health providers to ensure patient-first success.

As an expert in CBT and mindfulness-based cognitive behavior therapy (MBCBT), Dr. Kardel’s work experience and specialized training make her an asset to the NeuroScience, Inc. team. Dr. Kardel is an expert in multiple areas, including OCD, phobias, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder, social anxiety disorder, depression, ADHD, trichotillomania, and insomnia.

Dr. Kardel has worked with children, adolescents, and adults in a variety of settings throughout her career and she is ready to help you or your loved ones meet their goals.

To schedule a consultation or appointment with Dr. Erin Kardel, please call (703) 787-9090. NeuroScience is located at 106 Elden St., Herndon, VA 20170. Learn more, including what insurances NeuroScience accepts, by connecting onlineFacebook, and Twitter.

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