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  • Anne Hedelius

Summer Time Dos & Don'ts

During summer breaks from school, some children with mental health issues and/or developmental disabilities quickly wear out their parents with controlling and disturbing behaviors—all day, every day. That’s because these kids don’t handle changes in routine and overstimulation well. Just like the rest of the year, your child requires constant supervision. But in the summertime, that responsibility is all yours.

That's the bad news.


But here’s what you can do to make summer vacation a little easier for your whole family:

1) Create structured activities to keep your child busy. Check out Pinterest for lots of sensory activities, visual supports and creative crafts.

2) If you want to take a family vacation, only take short trips with quick access back home. A dysregulated child can quickly ruin the fun for everyone on long trips. Prepare your child and include them in planning.

3) Take a break for yourself through informal respite care with other parents. Other parents in your situation will understand your child and have the capacity to care for him or her briefly—long enough to give you a chance to rest a bit. And then you can return the favor for other parents.

4) Continue your child’s medications, psychotherapy, or other helpful routines that work for him/her during the school year. Remember that these measures can help with quality of life and aren’t reserved just to keep him/her on task during the school year.

5) Schedule extra sessions of therapies to work on skills that you child is struggling with. This is a great time of year to schedule additional hours of intervention services.

6) Consider summer day camps if you believe your child and the camp staff can handle it. Camp can offer valuable respite for you as a parent. If it’s a viable option for your child, you can look into the YMCA, The Boys and Girls Club, or other affordable options to keep your child active while you take a break.

7) Even if camp doesn’t work for your child with developmental disabilities, register your other children. Remember that your other children need a break from their sibling too.

8) Make healthy diet and daily exercise a fun part of each day with your child. Spend time outside each day relaxing, taking a walk, playing a game or going to the park. Let your child help you plan and shop for simple healthy meals that you can prepare together. Bonus points for working in the garden together.

15 practical self-care ideas for parents:

1. Buy little indulgences that help calm you. Nestle scented candles strategically throughout your home to provide instant relaxation and calm. Pamper yourself with essential oils to make the most of your shower (perhaps one of the few moments of privacy you get).

2. Use simple tricks to feel better physically. Splurge on a really great refillable water bottle and stay hydrated to improve your overall energy and health. Stock up on grab-and-go healthy snacks.

3. Look for support in the nooks and crannies of life. Fill up your social media feeds with encouragement by following pages, people, and accounts that post motivational quotes and memes.

4. Find creative ways to make up for enjoyable activities you don’t have time for anymore. Don’t miss your favorite shows. Consider DVR to enjoy them when you can sneak a few moments to yourself.

5. Seek the small feel-good moments in life. Open your curtains and let natural light nurture your mood and improve your concentration. Get your endorphins pumping by walking laps while your child is occupied in baseball, soccer, or football practice.

6. Make those few hours of sleep you get as rejuvenating as possible. Purchase a pillow that provides good support.

7. Don’t sacrifice your daily coffee even on the most chaotic of mornings. Use the app for your local coffee shop to order ahead and skip the line.

8. Pamper yourself. Get a pedicure or manicure. Drop in for a 15-minute walk-in chair massage at your local shopping mall for instant relief from tension headaches and tight muscles.

9. Escape into that guilty summer read with an audio book. Download on your phone for those endless hours of chauffeuring kids, sitting in waiting rooms, and idling in carpool.

10. Hire some help for everyday tasks. Look for a cleaning service to deep clean your bathrooms and kitchen every week. This is a big bang for your buck in terms of getting a little relief. Don’t let lawn work be a time suck when there’s probably an eager teenager in your neighborhood looking for pocket cash.

11. Just say ‘no’ to extra activities and volunteer work you’re signing up for only out of a sense of obligation. It’s okay to prioritize yourself.

12. Ask for help that’s actually helpful when friends and family offer. Suggestions include, “Would you bring by a meal on Tuesday? Could you drop my daughter off at piano lessons this afternoon? When you swing by would you bring a gallon of milk?”

13. Surround yourself with people who support the incredibly challenging work you’re doing and limit time with naysayers. Don’t seek advice or support from people, even family members, who don’t ‘get’ the very real challenges you’re facing.

14. Join a support group. Online support groups can be a great way to feel less alone and get practical suggestions for busy parents.

15. Be your own greatest fan. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Remind yourself of all the things you do well.


Don't neglect your own need for supportive psychotherapy. Taking time to nurture yourself in a safe supportive environment is the pressure relief valve that makes all the difference between living life and living life well.

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