By: Kelly Walsh, Board Certified Behavior Analyst
The thought of keeping our kids busy over the ten week summer break can be overwhelming especially if our kids have emotional and/or developmental challenges. Some children can have anxiety over the thought of new experiences and change. Planning for summer break can reduce anxiety for students and parents. Here are some strategies to help everyone survive the summer break; having structured schedule, being prepared, rewarding positive behavior, and knowing your child’s strengths and weaknesses are smart strategies to utilize for a successful summer.
Structure is one key ingredient to a successful summer. While it is impossible to duplicate the school environment, keeping to a schedule can help lessen any anxiety a child may feel. Most children, especially those with emotional and/or developmental issues, thrive with structure and consistently knowing what to expect. Develop a daily schedule with your child. Use free printable calendar pages or dry erase calendars as a visual reminder. Life happens and changes in the schedule are inevitable, talk about the possibility of change and prepare your child for specific changes whenever possible.
New environments, teachers, and friends can be a source of anxiety for students. Involving children in the planning process can greatly reduce anxiety. Keeping your child’s interests in mind while planing fun things to do, interesting places to visit, special meals, play dates, movie days, adventures, and lazy days. Allowing a child to have input fosters decision making and organizational skills. Being prepared isn’t just about things to do, recognize your child’s strengths as well as their weaknesses, plan accordingly. Have a plan B and allow your child to have time to acclimate to new situations. For example, visit camp before the first day and meet staff to allow the child to familiarize themselves with the new environment. Use reputable websites to show the child places you plan to visit.
While preparing for summer can be daunting, so is the thought of paying for amusement parks, concerts, and camps. Keeping busy does not have to be expensive. Be proactive; look for deals on the internet, call and ask if establishment offers discounts, use coupons etc… Many amusement parks have discounted tickets and wrist band pricing on their slower days or for residents. We are lucky to live in an area close to beaches, lakes, and public parks. Beaches and lakes not only offer swimming there are opportunities to socialize, create, unplug, and exercise. Beach badges can be costly however they are usually discounted to residents, before the busy season starts (Memorial Day weekend), and young children are usually free. Our public parks offer a wide array of free activities for learning and fun; splash areas for kids to cool off on hot summer days, interesting fossil digs, skate boarding parks, walking and biking trails, and historical sites to explore. For rainy days look for programs through the local library, township recreation departments, and craft stores. These programs also offer learning as well as social opportunities. Movie theatres sometimes offer discounted (usually less than 2 dollars) children’s films shown early in the morning on week days. These films are oldies, but goodies and fill up quickly so arrive early! Local libraries aren’t just about books. Many libraries allow patrons to borrow video games, books on tape and MP3 players, e-books, DVD s(including new releases), and music to try for free. Summer can also be the time to try new things, explore, and take advantage of all our shore community has to offer.
Many children are on Positive Behavior Support Plans earning rewards for their good behavior and hard work in school. If your child has a plan in place you may want to modify it for home and continue it over break. Summer break can be a great time to start a reward system for your child, nurturing a positive environment and self esteem. Keep in mind the things your child loves the most can be reinforcers to increase behavior we would like to develop. Spin punishment into a positive, instead of taking preferred items and activities away for negative behavior, use favorite things to increase the behaviors you would like to see more of. For example; “Johnny, you can earn time on your Ipad if you behave during the trip to the food store.” Instead of, “If you don’t listen at the food store you lose your Ipad.” Remember it is important to describe what behaving at the food means to you and make sure the child understands your description.
Using tokens (coins, tickets, etc…) can also be helpful in increasing positive behavior. Have an attainable goal when putting the token system in place (e.g., 5 tokens equals 5 extra minutes of TV time) review the system with the child making sure they understand. Give a token immediately following behavior you want to increase along with verbal praise. Honor the agreement when the goal is met.
Preparing for summer break is daunting task. Using the above strategies will help smooth transitions and foster executive functioning and social skills. Remember to be mindful of the child’s strengths and weaknesses when planning activities and always have a plan B. Enjoy the summer!
Kelly Walsh, M.A., BCBA
Board Certified Behavior Analyst