Make it a Simple Summer
Hello <<First Name>>,
Welcome back to Todderland where the slowness of summer can be a joy but can also cause shake-ups for your young child. I’ve gotten a number of calls in the past few weeks about toddler meltdowns and other out-of-sorts behavior. Why? Because the looseness of summer actually works against what your child needs. I can help with this so that the August days are a calmer time for you and your family.
WHAT’S GOING ON: For many of us, summer is a welcome time to slow down, get away, break from habit and change it up a bit—at least for most adults, it’s a lovely idea amidst our busy daily lives. Except that what sounds like a good idea to you may not sound so good to your little one who thrives on predictability and the repetition of routines —‘A different bedtime at grandmas? No way!’ ‘No plans for today?’ Your toddler may fall apart.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY: Toddlers know what they know, which is heavily grounded in repeating the routines you’ve lovingly created for them to help organize their days. These routines bring a deep sense of comfort. And yet, there can be a balance between predictability and summer spontaneity.
As we move into the hottest days of summer, I have a few suggestions for creating the slower summer pace you may desire while providing the predictable rhythms your toddler thrives on.
Stay On Time. Even though you and your family may be operating on a different or looser schedule, still keep to the general timing of everyday routines: meals, bath time, bedtime, getting up, dressed and out the door for the day. Keep your timing in place for these basic routines, whether you are at home or away.
If your family is traveling, the first thing to consider upon arrival is: what time is it from my child’s POV? Is it nap time? Near dinnertime? If so, rather than unpacking or jumping into an activity, put your child down for their regular nap or find the nearest restaurant! This will help to keep your child regulated and also give her that sense of control from knowing she or he can expect the expected.
Note: on a longer vacation where flying and jet lag may be involved, it can take several days for your child to adjust to the time change and shift in schedule.
Schedules Bring Comfort. During the summer and over other school breaks, my tried and true method for relaxation is to combine the less-is-more approach with a basic daily structure that allows for flexibility. It looks like this: divide the day into two blocks of morning and afternoon activities. This becomes your so-called ‘schedule’ for the day. Plan one activity for the morning, such as playing in the sprinkler in the yard, going to the park, local pool or library, or a special outing. Then have lunch followed by nap or downtime. (I recommend “quiet time” even if your child does not nap.) After this mid-day break, jump into your second block of the day with an activity such as visiting a relative or friend, or simply playing and digging in the backyard. Whatever the activity, schedule another period of downtime when you return home and before dinner. This schedule creates a daily rhythm even when activities and outings vary from day-to-day. After mealtime, fall into your regular routines—bedtime, bath, books and tucking in.
Make New-ness Familiar. When you travel, there is often a lot of new-ness for your child—new people to meet, new places to sleep, play and even take a bath. This sense of newness can also apply to places your child has visited in the past. Grandparents’ house may be a place they enjoyed last time, but if they haven’t been there in months or years, it will likely feel new again. Help your toddler adjust by taking it slowly and giving them time to acclimate once you arrive. Yours may need a few hours to settle in. Expect a transition and respect the amount of time your child needs to feel comfortable in a new place.
Keep It Simple. It’s easy to become excited by ALL the things to do when you’re on vacation or enjoying summer in your own community or city. I was guilty of this for many years until I figured out that simplicity made my children happier. Is there a pool or beach nearby? A fun playground? A museum to explore? A friend’s backyard to play in for the afternoon? I love finding the local carousel if there is one. Simple events can feel new enough to your child without becoming overwhelming. Rather than run your child from place to place and pack in multiple social visits each day, choose a single friend to spend time with and one place to discover, or rediscover and enjoy.
As we head into the final month of summer, set a goal to enjoy your days together. Remember: long and endless days may still sound dreamy to you but will surely lead to meltdowns for your little ones. A daily plan will go a long way to both entertain and soothe the whole family.
Here’s to enjoying the rest of summer!
And if you found this toddler-centric point of view on routines helpful, I encourage you to leave a comment or question on Facebook or Twitter. Also, let me know what more you’d like me to discuss in future newsletters. What kind of advice would you most appreciate?
For more toddler insight, visit HOW TODDLERS THRIVE and feel free to share what you've read here with other parents on the playground!