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Promoting and Strengthening Self-Regulation During the Summer


Summertime can mean slower days, opportunities to play outside for hours, and exciting vacations at the beach, lake, or with the grandparents. Families often crave this time of year because they are ready to recharge and reset their batteries. Although summer can bring moments of sunshine and smiles, it can also be challenging for children who struggle with regulating their emotions and behavior. Unstructured time and relaxed routines can sometimes recharge the family battery; however, these unstructured moments can fuel fires easily ignited by sassy behaviors, loud outbursts, and ugly moods, which, for some families raising neurodiverse children, can be hard to recover from. These draining moments take from others in the family and can end up building walls of resentment between siblings. They can also create feelings of animosity and even fear in relationships that are supposed to be easy, dependable, and lifelong. 

     Why do these meltdown moments seem to happen, especially in the summer? A change in routine and a lack of scheduled activities can increase free time and minimize opportunities for structured, appropriate socialization, which is what the school year provides for children and teenagers. Unstructured days can sometimes become a recipe for bumpy, emotional, high-stress moments in both neurotypical and neurodiverse families. To keep control of the slower, low-stress summer your family is craving, try implementing a few or all of these easy strategies into your daily summer routine. 

1.Set and practice a predictable morning, bedtime, and meal routine.

2. Commit to a healthy diet with consistent fruits and vegetables, limited or no processed food, and plenty of protein. Teach kids the difference between a snack and a treat. A snack helps our bodies and brains, while a treat is something we should enjoy in limited amounts and does little to help our bodies and brains.

3. To prevent frustrating transitions to new activities, create an individual “exit checklist” for each activity before getting in the car. The list might include a water bottle, glove, bat, cleats, and hat if you're headed to baseball games on Tuesday nights. If you're headed to day camp every morning, the list might include sunscreen, hat, water bottle, lunch, bug spray, and snack. Hang the lists by the door for easy reference before getting in the car. If something is forgotten, don’t stop the world to retrieve the item. Help your child struggle through the moment, even if they miss out on an opportunity. One tough moment can help create a lifetime of remembering to make and check a list before leaving home.

4. Plan to have quiet time each day specifically for good old-fashioned brain growth, like reading, writing, and quiet problem-solving. Use this time to teach kids how to focus and problem-solve on their own. Teach them to use low-tech devices independently, such as timers, calendars, noise-canceling headphones, and calculators, so they know how to use them independently when school starts.

5. If you plan a play date, make a list of possible activities. Talk through scenarios of conflict or choice. Role-play a few “what ifs” so kids know how to work through situations and can better control their emotions.


6. Make sure to work in at least 30-60 minutes of daily exercise. Many studies have shown significant growth in brain plasticity and cognitive function with just 30 minutes of physical activity.

7. Try to minimize technology in your child’s daily routine. Avoid using technology as a reward or a way to destress. Video games and social media can release high levels of dopamine. Having too little dopamine in some parts of the brain has been linked to mental illnesses, including depression. Having too much dopamine has been linked to aggressive and impulsive behavior. Find ways to create healthy natural doses of dopamine, like eating healthy food, listening to music, drawing or painting, playing sports, or simply being active in general. 

Most importantly, remember that you don’t have to be the “mood police.” People feel bad, get their feelings hurt, have outbursts, have bad attitudes, and are just difficult to be around. It’s not your job to make life better or easier for anyone, including your children. Your job in relation to your children and their emotions is to help them learn to cope with tough things, self-regulate their wants and needs, model forgiveness, and teach kids how to let things go and move on. Sometimes, this is done by ignoring their meltdowns and simply walking away from their bad attitude. Constant engagement doesn’t have to happen; model self-control and cut yourself some slack.  

Take control of your summertime priorities by setting a few routines and guidelines to help you have the summer you and your family have yearned for. Have fun and get outside. Enjoy a good lemonade stand, look for a few bugs, or go on a long walk with your dog and teenager. This is the time of life when memories are made; don’t forget to enjoy the ride. 

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