Well, the school campus is empty, all of the materials are packed away and it took me about a week to get around to writing this blog entry. Yup, it's officially summer. I understand, though, that parents may not embrace summer with a lot of zeal. If your child has been in school all year, the idea of having a little one to your self all day every day may feel daunting at times. Here's a few tips to keeping the fun in summer.
With the changes in routine that summer brings, you are likely to see that your child become easily overwhelmed. Summer is a great way to experience new textures, whether your child walking barefoot through the grass or building a sandcastle at the beach. Some children find new sensory experiences overwhelming. Even the sights and sounds of a regular day can create anxious energy that finally errupts in a tantrum. There are a few things you can do to help your child integrate all of the novel and unique sesory experiences he needs for his development and the routine sensory information he needs to function:
- Limit or eliminate electronics that overstimulate your child. It may look like your child is relaxed while watching tv, but television watching actually involves an almost constant shift in attention.
- Set aside face time just to sit and connect with your child. This time is a very important way for your child to decompress and process his day.
- Try massage if you feel your child has a lot of pent-up energy. The Peanut Butter and Jelly massage described in an earlier post is a great way to help your child unwind at the end of the day. Massage is shown to help in almost every area of mental and physical health.
- Examine the materials available for your child to work with and make sure to have items that make beautiful sounds and offer unique textures. A toddler's sensory systems are still developing and his ability to process visual, auditory and tactile information is based on his experiences.
- If your child is feeling squeamish about touching something or is feeling anxious about a loud sound, some empathy and reassurance can help your child to feel understood then to use his more rational left brain to override overwhelming emotion. Short lists, sequence and language engage the left brain, but only when you connect to your child's emotions with words, and understanding tone of voice and empathetic body language first. You can say,
"I know it can feel worrisome to touch something sticky. If you touch it and then you're ready to have clean hands, what could you do?"
"I see that loud blender really startled you, you can say, 'That startled me!' If you feel startled you can take some deep breaths. How many deep breaths would you like to take?"Uninterrupted Time
When you are feeling daunted by a vast expase of time, take a deep breath and remember, it is not your job as a parent to entertain your child! Create at least two hours of time most days for your child to be able to freely choose how to fill his time. When you see signs of concentration, never interrupt! Remember, concentration is a skill that requires practice to develop. Set up the environment so your child is able choose activities that interest him without any help from you.
- Set up a low shelf with no more than nine materials that may include:
- Materials for developing the grasp and eye-hand coordination such as pouring or transferring with hands or tools like spoons or tongs. Observe what grasps your child is using and create materials that challenge those grasps. You can look at a previous post for more ideas!
- Provide materials that help your child care for the environment like a sweeper and dustpan; color coded cloths for wiping spills on the table or floor; a bucket with small squeegee, spray bottle and cloth; and tiny creamer on a tray for indoor plant watering.
- Rotate materials for self expression like 5 to 7 crayons in a dish on a tray for drawing or tracing. Keep a few sheets of paper in a letter organizer on top of the shelf where your child can always find it. Have a tray available for completed work. Finger paint, clay, one or two water colors with tiny pitcher, brush and pinch bowl for water work well, too. Do you have an easel, make sure to set up materials for easel washing, too!
- Consider some materials to encourage language development. Create a basket of 5 to 7 animal replicas or objects and print out matching cards. Your child can pick a card and find the matching objects. Real objects like types of rocks, shells, or other natural objects are wonderful, too!
Does your child have opportunities to explore many types of movement? Read more about movement development and consider all of the ways you might be able to provide opportunities for your child to explore movement. Some great indoor tools include a large bean bag, tactile stepping stones to practice jumping, heavy balls to carry, a wagon to push, scarves for dancing, and a drum to hit.
Provide opportunities for your child to contribute to the day-to-day activities of your house. With appropriately sized tools and some flexibility on your part, there are many activities your child can do at home that are helpful for every area of development. If your child helps you unload the groceries, for example, he is engaging all areas of the brain including language development as you name objects, sensory stimulation while handling objects, cognitive development while finding the appropriate place for each item, social and emotional development while contributing to the people that are important to him, and movement! If you remember the phrase, "What fires together wires together," it becomes obvious that these types of purposeful activities stimulate every area of the brain, wiring these parts together for more effective, whole brain functioning! Don't miss these opportunities for your child. Have you considered offering:
- Sorting silverware, clean or dirty laundry for every member of the family?
- Taking out or bringing in the recycling bin on a hand cart with adjustable handle or wagon.
- Cutting produce or cheese, plucking grapes, peeling eggs, mashing potatoes or beans for hummus, juicing lemons, popping edamame beans, cutting herbs with scissors, or even baking bread!
- Set up brushes, a basin and restaurant pitchers for scrubbing the porch or outdoor furniture. Don't forget a watering can or endless watering outside. A tiny coffee creamer works great for watering plants indoors. Have your child help gather sticks out of the yard and put them in a wheel barrow. Sweep the porch or driveway with a push broom. Keep an eye out for child-sized products that allow your child to feel included and capable
When daily routines become chaotic, toddlers often become more rigid. A toddler in a rigid state tries to control everything around him and has a very difficult time incorporating novelty. To help your child regain some emotional flexibility:
- Create as much routine as possible and remind your child what is happening ahead of time so there is room for openness to new experiences.
- Help your child understand that emotions are temporary and don't define him.
There is a world of difference between hearing "I see you are feeling sad," and "You are sad."
- Talk about your toddlers strong feelings. Help her create her own way to work through strong feelings. Remember, following a sequence will automatically engage your toddlers left brain to help override these right-brain meltdowns! Don't forget to incorporate movement, movement actually changes brain chemistry and helps children (and adults) feel more calm. You can create this emergency emotion plan by explaining to your child:
"It can feel scary to have strong feelings. When I have strong feelings I like to take three deep breaths and squeeze a pillow really tight. What would you like to do when you are having really strong feelings?"
"I see you are feeling really angry. Can you jump up and down as many times as you are angry?"
Routine is the antidote to rigidity. Try to begin each morning with time outside, allow your child to prepare his own morning snack, then follow with two hours of uninterrupted time to play and work on his own. At lunch, discuss what activities or errands will occur that afternoon. Talk about the expectations at each location in a calm and relaxed way and offer choices. You could ask, "Is it ok to run in the grocery store? Would you like to help me find the groceries, or would you like to ride in the cart?"
Have fun and enjoy summer!