Everyone looks forward to summer, right? Warm weather, vacations, the beach, friends, relaxation… Often times, and for a lot of families, this is not the case. Summer can pose a lot of different kinds of stress and complications for families with children who are struggling behaviorally and emotionally. Let’s talk about it.
For children who struggle with behaviors and emotions, structure, consistency and relationships equal safety. Summer can threaten the routine. And when the routine is threatened, oftentimes the behaviors and emotional struggles increase. The summer is full of changes and unpredictability…”What will we do tomorrow?” “Who will take care of me?”…There may be multiple transitions throughout the summer: different camps, activities, people.
If this isn’t complicated enough, children who are struggling often have fewer options in the summer. Many available programs have a low tolerance for any acting-out behavior; many children run the risk of getting kicked out of summer programming. There are often less options when families need someone to watch their child when they work or run an errand − many family members and friends are not able to watch children who need additional supports.
Many families who live in Hartford and surrounding areas hesitate to allow children to play outside in the backyard or neighborhood. Families are worried about violence in the area − that something will happen to their child or that their child will make a wrong choice and end up in a dangerous situation.
Not to mention the financial burden. This burden is real for all families, but for families living below the poverty line or living pay check to pay check, this burden could prove insurmountable, especially when you factor in the additional cost of camps, activities and additional meals.
So now what? There is hope for summer 2016! There are a ton of cool activities and some simple interventions that can help everyone have a successful summer. For families, here are some steps towards summer success:
Become a researcher. Google it, call your local YMCA, park and recreation department, or 211. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- There are a lot of summer camps and other programs in the area (and many are free).The Hartford Foundation has an online directory.
- Our own Rambuh Family Center at 105 Spring St. in Hartford has wonderful activities for families. Stop by or call us at 860-236-4511 x3885.
- In Hartford, the parks and recreation department offers free camps, low- and no- cost activities and supervised playgrounds and pools.
- Libraries have free, fun activities throughout the summer. Check out Hartford Public Library’s website and click on the events calendar.
- There are free summer meal programs throughout the state.
Ask your child what they want to do this summer. Your child will have a much better chance at success participating in something they chose and are interested in.
Get involved. Make sure you share a lot of information about your child with the program and individuals who will be interacting with them. Share what they enjoy, what helps to soothe them, what frustrates them. Ask questions and share information with your child, too. Answer all of those questions that may cause anxiety before they go: what are the counselors’ names, how long will I be there, what if I miss you, when do we eat lunch…
Make it visual. If you have a lot going on in the summer, create a visual schedule for your child that they can refer to. It could include: vacation, camp, activities with you, when you get out of work, etc. This will help with the multiple transitions that occur.
Set a summer routine. For the same reasons a routine works during the school year, it will work in summer. If possible, keep pieces of your school year routine, like a bedtime routine, hygiene or meal routine. If other things need to shift, make it part of the routine…maybe bedtime is at 9 p.m. during the summer instead of 8 p.m. Define it, add it to the schedule.
Be your own camp counselor. There are tons of resources on the internet. One year, I created an entire camp-like schedule for my two children, complete with school-like activities, hands-on activities and ‘field trips’. I think they loved and hated it at the same time, but they had a great summer and were never bored!
Set aside time to spend with your child. I promise it will be their favorite part of the summer. These years past faster than you think. Find free and fun activities and go together, smile and laugh with your child. After all, it is summer!Enjoy a concert.
- Enjoy a concert. This website lists free summer concert series throughout CT.
- See a movie. Bow Tie Cinemas in Hartford offers free movies in summer
- Go to a museum or zoo. Many local museums and zoos have free days throughout the summer
Become an advocate…whether it is for your child or for children that struggle emotionally and behaviorally. When your child has a tough day at camp, talk to them about it and talk to the program about it. Help your child think through and problem solve. Advocate for their needs to be met. All children deserve to have fun, relaxing, memorable summer opportunities.