By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
Oh, summertime. The wonderfully unpredictable juggle of vacation weeks plus a variety of camps and activities for your child. Plus, a healthy dose of parenting expectations that things should be magical and wonderful for said child as “who doesn’t love camp and going on vacation!” The perfect recipe for, you guessed it, major kid meltdowns. And often, even more fun here, public kid meltdowns!
In our office, it is common to hear about carefully planned vacations going terribly wrong or kids struggling to adjust to week after week of summer camps. Unfortunately, while parents never intend to plan incredibly overstimulating and overwhelming trips and activities, summer is often exactly that for the kids we work with, particularly those with trickier personalities.
You might wonder: who tends to struggle with summer transitions, vacations, and activities? While not an exhaustive list by any means, this is a general idea of kids who may struggle in this situation:
If we all stopped to think about it, it makes perfect sense that kids with the above personalities would struggle with the unpredictability of summer! Even if they pick the camps and activities, it is still very overwhelming, especially for our elementary-aged kids, to do so many new, exciting, or even scary things. This is why it is important for us as parents to set realistic expectations for ourselves and for our kids in these situations.
Because guess what? As much as you don’t enjoy summer when your child is struggling, acting out, melting down, or hiding in their room refusing to go to camp or on a plane - they don’t enjoy it either! It is crucial that we remember that our kids are doing the best they can in a situation beyond their current ability to cope and regulate.
If your child has struggled in summer's past or has any of the challenges described above, I would like to share suggestions about how to help make summer go better. Or perhaps just to help you set some more realistic expectations!
1. Set realistic expectations for all of you. So many parents end up in the trap of thinking that if they can pick the perfect camp or have the perfect kid-oriented vacation planned, their child, who has struggled in years past, will no longer struggle. That is just not usually the case and can add to parents' feelings of frustration when things are not going better than in the past. If your child has struggled in past summers, vacations, periods of transition, etc., please try to expect some level of challenge so you are not surprised or feeling completely frustrated that your plans did not solve the problem.
You see, the problem is not actually your child. Or summer. The problem is that your child lacks the skills to manage their situation, and they most likely need to be in for one reason or another. And other than time and working with your child on flexibility, anxiety management, problem-solving, emotional regulation, attention, etc., outside of stressful situations, sometimes you will just need to ride out the challenging moments.
Plus, even if you are working with your child on building skills, either through therapy, parent consultation, or parent intervention on its own, it is not a guarantee of immediate success. It takes time for people to change, kids included. We need to remember this and give them the time they need to cope differently in challenging situations!
2. Try to match your planning around your child’s personality and needs if possible. So, this means that if you have a child who is often anxious and struggles to connect with new people, I would not put them in a new camp at a new location each week, even if the camp activities or topic is amazing and a great fit for them. I just would not take that risk because I would remember that each new camp has a new routine, new people, new staff, new friends, and new expectations, and that is A LOT for a child with anxiety and social challenges. They would do better in an environment with similar kids, staff, and situations for most of the summer.
If your child tends to get overly excited and easily dysregulated in situations with a lot of change and activity, I might try to modulate that by having them in a half day program or planning extra down time for them. This would look different depending on the family situation and needs, plus the kids’ needs, but it might even mean getting a nanny to share with one other family so that your child can engage but not be entirely overwhelmed. It might just mean planning a day or two of downtime before and after exciting vacations.
While I can’t give examples for every type of child or each child’s personality and needs as it is so situation specific, I would encourage parents to consider:
Another example would be if your child was in a day camp and coming home each night in tears because they are struggling with kids being unkind to them. I would not just pull them out of camp the first day. First, I would try coaching them on the situation and how to handle it and give them some time to try and make a good effort with those skills. Second, after about a week, I would contact the camp staff to see if they have insight into what is happening and can help support the kids in a different way. I would then give that some time, but if the issue persists and your child is reported to be miserable ALL DAY, I think I would try to find another situation for them that summer. The goal here is that we do not jump to rescuing them without offering ideas to help solve the issues they are facing but that we do not keep them in situations that are clearly not a good fit for too terribly long without taking action.
I hope these ideas are helpful! Summer is one of those times that takes so much planning, especially for dual-working families, and it can be truly difficult to manage our reaction when it does not go as planned. Try to anticipate a little bit of what might happen so you are not completely caught off guard! And do not hesitate to reach out to a professional if you could use some support in making these decisions! We are here for you!
If you would like more parenting advice and suggestions, please sign up for our newsletter below, as we have EXCITING NEWS coming up at Thrive!
At Thrive, we take a positive, client-centered approach to therapy that is focused on creating a genuine connection with our clients. If you would like to talk with a Thrive Therapist about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy we offer in person and telehealth via video sessions, please reach out to us by phone at 858-342-1304.
To stay in the loop on the services offered and to receive updated information about Thrive, please feel free to sign up for the newsletter through the following link: http://eepurl.com/dsgLNL.
Blogs from the Thrive Family!
Musings from Erica, Jennifer, Maria, Kim, Andrea, Molly, Abbey, and Ying-Ying