At the end of the school year, kids can be brimming with excitement – their thoughts wandering towards summer break as they sign each other’s yearbooks and daydream about their newfound freedom. The assignments and projects and homework has piled on for months, and it’s suddenly gone! For some, there are lots of exciting activities to fill this void, but for foster youth things can be different.
At the end of the school year resource parents might wonder: how do I prepare my foster child for their change in schedule?
One way to ease the stress is to maintain a routine during the summer months. Maintaining a routine is a simple way to create a sense of normalcy for your child. Knowing what to expect from each day may reduce any added stress from yet another life change.
Built in Routines (Camps and Activities)
For some, building a routine might be easy. If your child is enrolled in a summer camp, there will be a schedule already prepared for them. For example, they wake up at 8:00, eat breakfast at 8:30, and leave for camp at 8:45. Once at camp, they will have activities scheduled throughout the day. But not all children have access to these types of activities, and so they may have more free time; however, our summer camp scholarships can help.
Wake up and Bedtime
The routine can be simple. It’s good to establish a bedtime and a wake up time for children during the summer to maintain a sense of what to expect each morning and evening. Maybe you set a time to get out of bed, get dressed and eat breakfast together. If possible, you could incorporate a five-minute mindfulness practice before or after breakfast. If the morning isn’t an option, try a mindfulness activity before bed. (Learn more about the benefits of mindfulness)Establishing wake up and bedtimes can regulate sleep and create a sense of security in what will happen the next day.
Create set meal and snack times. Children are accustomed to eating lunch at a certain time during school, and maintaining this expectation during the summer can be helpful.
Besides scheduling meal times, it is also important to eat a balanced diet. As far as breakfast goes, preparing a meal the night before can be a simple way to make sure you and your family are eating healthfully even if you don’t have much time in the morning. Simplemost.com provides some ideas of healthy breakfasts that can be prepared ahead of time.
Providing structure around mealtimes is especially helpful for children with eating anxieties, though special attention needs to be paid when these behaviors are present. Learn more about eating anxieties.
It may also be helpful to explicitly outline what you hope you and your child can accomplish over the summer. This can involve setting realistic summertime goals.
A goal could be reading three new books, learning a new song on piano, or, for older youth, getting a summer job. You might create a routine of going to the library every week or two, taking out books to read and then have your child engage in a discussion with you about what they read. It’s important to include the child in setting these goals, so set up a family meeting to discuss everyone’s objectives and write them down on paper. These goals may provide a sense of purpose and help youth maintain their educational progress during the summertime.
Remember to cater these goals to the current abilities of your foster kids, and to make sure that they are realistic and achievable so they can feel accomplished.
For those who have the ability to have a parent stay home during the summer, it can also be a good idea to establish a theme for each day. This way kids have an idea of what to expect each week, and not just each day. This could include a Park Trip Mondays, Library Tuesdays, Playdate Wednesdays, etc. While there may need to be changes according to weather or cancellations, having a general sense of what to expect from day-to-day can be helpful.
Of course, leisure time isn’t all bad. It is important for children to get some time to relax, since oftentimes their lives are packed with activities during the school year.
While planning a routine may be simple, implementing it, especially for foster youth with behavioral challenges or those who are newly placed, may be difficult.
It is important to consider a few things when implementing a routine:
- Temperament – Some kids thrive on going from activity to activity, using up their mounds of energy on soccer, art projects and playdates, while others need downtime and don’t require as much stimulation. Resource parents may not always have a great sense for the temperament of their foster child, especially if the child hasn’t been in their home very long.
- Age – Younger children may need more parental structure, so you’ll have to be more hands on during their activities. Older youth may not require such structure, but they’ll still need supervision to make sure their accomplishing their goals.
- Reevaluation – It’s a good idea to check in on the effectiveness of the routine after a few weeks. Is your 5-year-old bored and acting out? He might need a more structured routine. Is your fifteen-year-old overwhelmed and stressed? Talk to her about what activities she can put on the back burner. It’s important not to be afraid to tweak the routine—or totally change it—if it isn’t holding up.
There are differences for implementing routines for younger and older children. The Family Routine Guide by Rochelle Letini and Lise Fox provides advice on how to deal with problematic behaviors in children from birth to age 5, and it may be helpful in getting children to participate in the routine. It covers difficult behaviors that may arise in getting dressed, brushing one’s teeth, eating meals and going shopping, and provides multiple ways to deal with the situation depending on what works best for your child.
Again, these routines are easy to outline in theory, but actually implementing them can be much more difficult. Every child is different, and the discretion of the resource parent is required to determine what types of routines are appropriate and executable for your child.
For more ideas on summer activities, see our article about summer activities, here.