Why is summer tricky?

For many parents, the 6 – 7 week stretch of the school holidays can be daunting, and for those raising children who have had a tricky start in life, this is amplified. So why is it so difficult?

What are your favourite things about holidays? I love relaxed days with no set plan, when I lose track of time and can sit reading a book or laughing with friends while sipping on something cold. My husband loves active rest, enjoying nothing more than days full of new places, hiking up mountains and camping. It’s amazing that we’ve ever successfully holidayed together at all! And the truth is, many of these are now the very things that would spell disaster if we even attempted to enjoy them with our family!

For many parents, the 6 – 7 week stretch of the school holidays can be daunting, and for those raising children who have had a tricky start in life, this is amplified.

So why is it so difficult?

Every child, situation and family are different, so there is no one size fits all answer, and there are always layers of complexity, but here are 3 things that may play a part in making the summer holidays tricky.

1. Routine provides safety

For children who have had a difficult start in life, so many everyday things are viewed through the lens of fear; things that are unknown, new or changing are seen as representing threat. This can trigger the fight / flight / freeze / fawn response in the brain.

Foster and adoptive families learn to create predictable routine and structures so there is a familiar rhythm to their days and weeks; from having the same cereal every morning to leaving at the same time for school, attending the same clubs each week to when screen time is allowed, parents do whatever is needed to take away some of the uncertainty that may exist for their child. Having familiar routines in place is part of how parents remove unnecessary anxiety and obstacles that they may face because of their early life experience. This means they’re able to focus on fun, play, building friendships, schoolwork, sports and more because they know where they are, what to expect and what comes next.

Summer holidays bring lots of change. So much of the structure that normally exists in a day is gone, therefore anxiety levels are much higher. This outworks in behaviour as children try and cope with their big feelings. It may be challenging behaviour or angry outbursts, there may be increasing challenges with processing sensory information, or children may find it difficult to settle.. Sometimes children may be able to articulate what they’re feeling and why, but most often they won’t be able to which may feel even more frightening. It can leave the adults in the family trying to understand what their child is feeling based on what they’re expressing and when, which isn’t always easy.

Critically, these big feelings reduce a child’s capacity for fun, engaging with friends, activities and people. Most of their brain power is focused on coping as survival mode is activated in their brain.

2. Loss and fear

For most children in primary education, the summer is the end of one academic year and the start of another, and that often means moving year group, classroom and teacher. For children, regardless of age, it’s a moment of transition in some way, shape or form.

Hopefully the children have formed strong connections to teachers or other adults in the classroom who have helped them with learning and regulating their emotions, and provided security, familiarity and comfort in a place that is often confusing.

When a child moves and one or more of the adults stay put, children can experience this move as loss. This reaches deep for a child who will have already experienced significant loss in their lifetime. These feelings may be scary, overwhelming and confusing for children who may not be able to understand what they’re feeling and why it’s so strong!

Added to that are more uncertainties in what lies ahead. What might the new teacher(s) be like? Will they shout? Is the work harder? Who will they sit with and where? Many will have the chance to ‘visit’ for part of a day in preparation but that can't allay all their fears – so many unknowns will remain.

3. ‘I don’t know what to do’

Most parents will hear their children say ‘I’m bored’ at some point over the holidays (or may say it themselves when sat in another park on day 34...). For children who have experienced trauma, it can be very difficult to concentrate on something because their brain is constantly drawing their attention to perceived threats. This is called hypervigilance; it’s a state of increased alertness, an exaggerated fear of danger. From Lego to board games, whatever the activity, engaging and sticking to one thing is difficult.

Children can walk into a room full of toys and things to do and not see ‘anything to play with’ because their sensory processing difficulties mean they literally cannot process what their eyes are seeing. They cannot understand that there are lots of potential toys there, much less be calm enough to access their imagination and create a game on their own.

Children who have low self-worth face huge barriers to trying new things or sticking at something when it doesn’t work first time. It can be so hard to play another round of UNO when they lost the last one, or to have the confidence to try a new sport or activity when they haven’t played before.

The cries of ‘I don’t know what to do’ or frustrated, dysregulated outbursts may not be the entitled whines that we think, but a statement of a very true fact.

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If you’re a parent or carer of a child who’s had a difficult start in life then you’ll already be familiar with these 3 reasons, and I’m sure can think of countless more. Here are a few things that we’ve previously brought together that might help you ‘win’ at summer this year.

Maybe you know a fostering or adoptive family and you’d love to get alongside them this summer but you’re not sure of where to start? We’ve listed 3 ideas below (and you can find even more here!)

1. INVOLVE, INCLUDE, INVITE

    One of the most challenging things for some families (especially the adults) during the summer can be feeling isolated. Some will feel unable to join in with things because of their children’s needs, or may don’t have people they feel confident enough to be around if their children are having a tricky day. So, if you’re heading to a local park, driving to the beach or going for a walk in the woods, why not invite a family you know to come and join you. It might not be possible or practical, but even the invitation could speak volumes to them about your value and care for their family.

    2. ASK

      If you’re not sure where to start but you want to be helpful, then ask. Find out what the pinch points are during summer holidays and if there’s any part you could play in helping. Find out what things their children love and how you could share that with them. Ask if there are practical things you could do that could release some of their mental load. Your willingness demonstrates your honour for them and that’s a powerful thing.

      3. PRAY

        Prayer continues to be the most effective weapon and tool we have for and with one another, so committing to praying for families who foster and adopt is significant. Perhaps you could let them know you’re praying, share words of encouragement as you bring them before God and ask if there are specifics you can pray for?

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        While the summer holidays are a time of stretch for many for manifold reasons, they’re also filled with opportunities for connection, relationship building, memory making and fun. Perhaps this will be the first summer a child dips their feet in the sea, climbs a tree, or tries something else new? Perhaps you'll get the privilege of being part of some of those moments, big and little, as you step out and come alongside a family you know?

        Author:
        Claire for Home for Good


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