Summer Break with your High-Needs Child

As thrilled as kids are with summer break, it can be difficult on parents to muster the same enthusiasm. You’re all out of your routine and it can take time to get used to a new schedule, and get used to each other.

If you have a child with developmental delays, high emotional needs or mental health issues, the start of summer break can be particularly rocky. Here are some ideas to keep the peace–and your sanity–these next few months:

Keep a schedule.

These long summer nights are beautiful in Boise, and a few 10 p.m. bedtimes a week won’t hurt. But my guess is you’ll find more patience and see fewer meltdowns if kids are in bed early several nights a week.

Besides, kids need sleep. I know that developmental or emotional delays can mess up how kids sleep. However, the National Sleep Foundation has some suggestions for how much sleep is best for kids by age:

  • Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours. Anything between 8 and 14 hours of sleep a day is fine.
  • School-aged Children (6-13 years):9-11 hours, but try not to get less than 7 or more than 12 hours of sleep.
  • Teenagers (14-17 years): 8-10 hours a day, but anything between 7 and 11 hours of sleep a day is fine.

Make it visual.

This suggestion from the Child Mind Institute can be particularly helpful for kids who really need predictability. A “schedule” throughout the day can be as simple as a daily list with times so kids know when they’re going to transition to another activity.

Make plans.

It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive, but an activity a day can help you look forward to something, even if it’s just a trip to the library or the pool.

Often parents of special needs kids have a difficult time finding playmates. You can always check Facebook groups or Boise area Meetup groups to find groups that match your children’s needs.

Get outside.

I feel so strongly about getting outside as a benefit to mental wellness. (In fact, this is why I offer Talk and Walk appointments, so my clients and I can get out in nature while talking about their problems.)

This is why I recommend making a plan to head outside every day. Head to a pool together. Go walk or bike along the Greenbelt after dinner. Find a park you’ve never been to. Take a hike–there are many good family-friendly hikes within easy driving distance. You’ll find it expends any extra energy your kids may have and smooth out the rough edges of the day.

Take care of yourself.

You don’t need me to tell you that being a parent of a high-needs child can be difficult and draining. I just want to remind you that self-care is important, and that you deserve a break.

Figure out a support system during the summer. If you have loved ones who have offered help, accept it. If they haven’t offered yet, ask them for a scheduled break during the week, even if it’s only for an hour.

Good luck, parents. You’ve got this!

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

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