Summer Time can Bring a Disruption of Routine for Children
July 26, 2017
Summer time can be a special time to spend with our children. Vacations are wonderful things however; some parents and guardians may observe that vacations are a disruption of routine for children. Routine often helps children feel safe and secure and being out of the normal routine can be an uncomfortable thing for some.
Children differ widely in how they respond to stressors, and even what constitutes a stressor. Some of them thrive in novelty and excitement, while others rely on predictable and consistent routines.
In this blog, I want to talk about how children self-regulate and take care of themselves, particularly those who have difficulty with new experiences.
Children Need an Anchor
Children need an anchor- something to hold onto through transitions. Children are each unique and have different personalities and characteristics. Some children develop this anchor inside and are able to use it to cope with stressors. Think of how a parent might help a child learn to sleep through the night. Parents love and care for their child, talking softly, rocking, and soothing them to sleep. When we do this, our child internalizes the parent’s love and care so that when she is alone, she can reach inside and find that anchor of love inside. This can be the soothing support she needs to cope with something stressful. This anchor is created to different degrees in different people. It is not good or a bad, just different.
This summer I sent my 10-year-old son off for a week at summer camp. It is always intriguing to see how kids transition into an environment away from parents and the normal routines. Homesickness is inevitable. Sometimes that internalized anchor is not enough. We rely on letters from home, pictures, or a familiar blanket to anchor us. These help regulate our emotions and make the distance not as far or as painful. Staying active can help mitigate sad feelings, but it does not make them go away. They often come back in the quiet moments and can be overwhelming. This is where we can help children learn regulation in order to survive and thrive.
How a Disruption of Routine Effects Children
Likewise, children taken out of their routine during a vacation can have significant problems with regulation. New environments, new schedules, new activities, and other changes can result in stress and behavior problems. Children will try to adapt and regulate. Unfortunately, when a child is trying self-regulate it can sometimes be seen by parents as annoying or misbehaving. A child who holds her ears or screams could be blocking out overwhelming sounds. A child who runs and hits could be trying to discharge energy. A child who constantly asks questions and asks for help could be looking for reassurance that she is safe and that you will protect her.
Children need to regulate their emotions and their bodies. Children seek regulation through many activities. Does your child spin or rock? This is a body seeking regulation. Is your child shy around strangers? This child is seeking to be less overwhelmed around new people or experiences. Does your child have a shorter temper when on a long car trip? This child needs regulation in order to cope with the stress of a car trip.
How a Child Regulates Her Emotions
So how does a child regulate? We can find regulation in our emotions and our bodies. Emotional regulation is the ability to deal with feelings, identify, and manage them so that they are not overwhelming. We can help children find emotional regulation through active and reflective listening, which helps a child not feel alone. We can help them with feelings identification activities to help expand their emotional vocabulary. We can help them with self-awareness so that they can realize when they are in the early stages of feelings that might become overwhelming. And we can help them develop coping skills to manage feelings, such as seeking support when they feel lonely, stepping away when they feel angry, or finding an activity when they feel sad.
Body regulation is not just about discharging energy, but also about the balance of the body. Physical activities that children seek on the playground are good examples of ways to regulate the body. Examples include running, swinging, sliding, and spinning. These help their bodies engage and balance. Activities like coloring, drawing, fidgeting, playing with Play Doh™, blowing bubbles, deep breathing, and bouncing all help the body regulate. Rocking and patting your newborn to sleep helps him regulate and learn to self-soothe. Chewing gum or sucking on candy can help regulate. Mindfulness, meditation, exercise, and yoga are ways that we help connect the body with the mind and create regulation.
As Parents, We can Help Children Cope
We as parents have the opportunity to read the signs in our children and help teach them to cope with stressors. It is based on your relationship and knowing your child. What works for one child may not work for another, just as what is a challenge or stressor for one may not be for another. Some children thrive on together time and some on alone time. Parenting is not about what you deliver as a parent, but how you respond to your child’s individual needs. We need to be the parent that our individual child needs us to be.
About the Author
By John Richardson-Lauve, Director of Mental Health and Trauma and Resilience Education
John Richardson-Lauve is a licensed clinical social worker with over 20 years of experience working in community mental health. He is committed to supporting and strengthening individuals and communities that struggle with adversity. His experience includes work with chronically mentally ill adults, substance abuse, residential youth care, foster care, and outpatient mental health. He has worked with homeless veterans in New York City, in a hospice home for those with HIV in the early stages of the AIDS crisis, and six years living in a home with eight teenage girls in foster care. John is an experienced trainer, lecturer, and keynote presenter. He is the Director of Mental Health and Lead Trauma and Resilience Educator at ChildSavers. John and his wife have a nine-year-old son and together, they have worked with over 50 children in foster care in their home.