Summer is a great time when most people want to kick back and relax. Exceptional parents and kids are no different, but sometimes things do not happen as smoothly as we would like. Michael both loves and hates certain things about the summer as do I. He loves having more freedom, (what kid doesn’t), but the lack of structure when he is not at camp along with anxiety about different issues (this year it is being around large groups of people whereas last year was about being in front of technology), makes for some difficulties for him to manage emotions. It is also hard on me and Dad, as planning activities can become a challenge when he prefers to stick to his trademark activities and not want to try anything new. He also enjoys camp, but then gets fed up too and wants a break. It needs to be a happy medium.
I have learned to understand that pushing him does not work. It is one thing to gently encourage trying new things. It is quite another to downright insist that he do things like other kids who don’t have his challenges. He is not like them and never will be. That is fine. I don’t want Michael to be anyone but himself. I love his uniqueness, and only want to help him through the rough patches so he knows how to handle life’s ups and downs. Like any Mom, I just want him to be happy as himself. Maybe he is, but I worry that my usual social kid is afraid to be out with a lot of people around and giving up activities he loved in order to accommodate this like swimming in public pools or going to parks. When camp is finished, I hope to help him devise strategies to give parks and pools a try at quieter times of the day. I want him to see that he could do it, that he is capable.
See, the thing is as parents we have to walk the fine line between giving our kiddos choice in how they have fun and also gently encouraging them to get their ‘feet wet’, so to speak. How can parents do this? Here are some tools and advice I take with me every summer and apply:
1) Have some fun active games outside planned: In our case this year, Michael and I do bike rides and long walks as playing sports in the park is not something he is comfortable with for now.
2) Give your child positive indoor activity choices: This could be playing educational games on the computer, listening to music, yoga, talking on the phone to friends, reading a book, etc.
3) Help them find a new hobby: One year Michael discovered face painting, another year he took up painting with an easel. A hobby could also be dancing or singing.
4) Balance out structured and unstructured time: It’s important they have time away from you (camp or respite) as well as time spent as a family or with friends in a less structured environment. The balance of both will teach your child that life provides a bit of both.
5) Plan some family vacation time whatever that looks like: It’s nice when you can do things in town or out of town as a family. Do what works for your family.
Exceptional Parents, how hard or easy is summertime for you and your Exceptional Child? What tips have helped you thrive or survive? In the end, it really depends on your attitude about your child, your acceptance of where they are at, and your willingness to be flexible and encourage them to try things at their own pace. That will usually make the summer go well. Until next time.