By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/LEPISODE 82


The transition to summer comes with so many emotions and behaviors, it can be really exhausting. There are ways to support your neurodivergent child through this transition.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

Episode Links

How to support regulation around the summer break transition
Laura (00:00): But all of these things are sort of between outdoor time reading and playtime Inside. All of those things are her independent playing, but instead of me just saying, go play for an hour and a half, she's like, what do I do with that? When I break it down into smaller chunks,...

Laura (00:00): But all of these things are sort of between outdoor time reading and playtime Inside. All of those things are her independent playing, but instead of me just saying, go play for an hour and a half, she’s like, what do I do with that? When I break it down into smaller chunks, it makes her feel more, less overwhelmed, and just looking forward to the next thing, which if you have a kid who has a hard time with independent play, this helps a lot. Welcome to the Sensory Wise Solutions podcast for parents where parents can get real actionable strategies to support kids with sensory processing disorder. I’m Laura Ot and mom To Liliana, a sensory sensitive kid who inherited my anxiety and my love for all things Disney. Consider me your new OT mom, bestie. I know my stuff, but I also know what it’s really like in the trenches of parenting a child with sensory processing disorder. Speaker 2 (01:00): Okay, mom, enough about me. Let’s start the podcast. Laura (01:07): Hey everyone. Welcome to the last episode for season two of the Sensory Wise Solutions podcast for parents. I can’t believe it’s already this time of year. Every year since I started the podcast, which is the past two years, I take a break over summer to refresh my brain to get some good ideas for the next season, which always starts around fall. I kind of follow the school year calendar, at least the US school year calendar. So this is the last episode, but it is very helpful, especially if you are also in the transition into summer or any sort of holiday break at this time in your year. A lot of times kids at this exciting time of the year when they’re getting out of school and getting ready to go to the next grade, there’s a lot of excitement and things happening, and with that is a lot of dysregulation, especially for our neurodivergent kids. (02:06)So that’s what we’re talking about today in this last episode. So let’s first talk about why exactly this transition from the end of school year to summer. Vacation is difficult. I feel like it might be obvious, but let me just call out some of the things that we might be looking over and maybe some of these will make you think, oh man, that makes so much sense. Right. Let’s just first think of all the things that come with the actual transition from the end of school year into the summer season. So there’s weather changes, which means different kinds of clothing that need to be worn. This means there’s more sunlight for longer periods of time in the day. This means the increase in temperature or if you live in another part, the world, sometimes it also means a decrease in temperature at this time of the year. (03:03)There are changes, physical changes in the environment, which for a nervous system that might be sensitive to change and needs extra time for adaptation to things that change in the environment. This can be hard for them, which is for a lot of our neurodivergent kids. There’s also changes in food and fruit availability. There’s new fruit that’s available. There’s things that are not available anymore. I know certain stores that stop selling a certain kind of snack item are local. Costco changes foods for different seasons and some things that were available in spring and winter are no longer on the shelves. And all of that changes, especially if you have a picky eater. And then of course, the biggest thing that changes is just the day-to-day schedule. Maybe our work schedule as parents and caregivers don’t work, but our kids schedules definitely do, and that means enrolling them in camps and grandma’s house and maybe taking turns with the neighbors or maybe they’re home all day. (04:03)There are just so many different things that change and then vacations and all of it. It is exciting, but it’s also important to remember that for divergent kids with sensitive nervous systems, even exciting things can dysregulate them. Even if your child is so excited for that week long trip to Disney World or to the beach or wherever you’re going with them, sometimes that excitement can disregulate them. So remember that the nervous system feels safest and more in control when things are predictable and when they are routine and the nervous system tends to become more high alert so that you can be prepared for your body and brain to fight or flight if you have to adapt to the environment. But they become on high alert when things are changing, when there are new things. So that’s when you’re seeing the dysregulation. The problem is when you have a divergent child, this change in the nervous system, the way that it needs to be kind of on high alert. (05:10)They need extra support in order to adapt to the changes and to feel safe with the new norm, so to speak, for the next few weeks or few months depending on how long this summer transition is for you all. So just to call it out again, it’s really common to see dysregulation at this time of year into the summer vacation in the form of meltdowns, moodiness, a lot of boredom. You might see some old behaviors pop back up or maybe worsen. You might see new behaviors come up and it is all centered around the nervous system just being dysregulated and trying to make sense of the new things around them. So of course, I’m going to give you some tips on regulation, but before we talk specifically about optimizing regulation around the house, around the home, there’s also a really big part about the end of the school year that can be hard for some kids and also be contributing to the dysregulation, and that’s that emotional piece, the part where you might have a child who has such really, really big intense feelings about saying bye to their friends, about some friends who are moving away about leaving their favorite teacher, about being afraid of moving on to the next school year, or maybe they have a whole new school, maybe they’re transitioning to a different school. (06:36)There’s a lot of these really, really big emotions that can come with the end of the school year. And I get asked this question a lot. My child is so sad to leave their friends. I don’t know how to make them feel better about it. I don’t know what to do. They cry whenever we talk about it. Here’s my answer for this particular situation, and it’s really how I handle all really big feelings and emotions about something that’s going on in your child’s life that we have no control over. We cannot control it. The school year comes to an end. Their friend might be moving, they have to change teachers, they have to change schools. There’s these things that are out of control, that are out of our control and are triggering some big feelings for our kids. What is our job? Our job is not to pacify them. (07:24)Our job is not to take away the feelings or distract them. Our job is not even really to make them feel better. That’s not really our job. Our job is to show them that we can handle those big feelings that, and our job is to show them how they can handle their big feelings and still have them, not make them go away and to be okay with them. I’ve shared this story many times, but in case you’re hearing it for the first time, I always share the example of my childhood. I have wonderful, wonderful, wonderful parents who care and love about me so much, and my mom cared about me so much as a young child that she did not ever want to see me sad or upset. So that came in the form of buying me toys to make me feel better about things or giving me a lollipop or one of my fondest memories is she did almost every Easter egg hunt alongside me because she never wanted me to not find eggs. (08:20)And I always had older cousins who were much faster and more aggressive than I was. I was the shy little timid one, and she always, always did that Easter egg hunt with me so that I would never have an empty basket of eggs. And that is very sweet and very lovely, and I love my mom for that. And unfortunately what that means is now as an adult, I have been realizing that I don’t know how to sit with my big feelings. It makes me feel uncomfortable, and I’m used to someone else making me feel better, consoling me, telling me that it’s going to be okay, distracting me. And I have had to learn tools and practice what it feels like to have those feelings. So my point in sharing this with you is that I know it’s very tempting and it feels like an instinct to want to solve your child’s emotions by showing them the bright side, right? (09:14)Oh, I know you’re going to miss your friend, but you’re going to see them soon in a couple weeks. Or I know you’re going to miss your teacher. You love her so much, but guess what? Next year’s teacher is going to be just as great. Oh, don’t worry. Next week we’re going to the vacation. We’re trying to quickly dry their tears and move on because of course, who would say, I want to see my child sad. No one is going to say that. Of course, we would love for our kids to always be happy, but the truth is they are not always going to be happy. And the truth is, we are not always going to be there to take away their feelings and they’re going to need to learn how to feel, how to sit with the discomfort of those big feelings. And the best way we could do that is to sit with them and listen to them and not try to rush to take away the feelings. (10:00)Now, I’m not saying bring it up every single day and just have a cry fest for hours a day. I am saying when they feel vulnerable and are showing you vulnerability, and I’m saying, I’m really going to miss my friends. I’m scared to go to first grade. I don’t know what my teacher’s going to be like. Instead of jumping straight into answering those questions for them, really, really just maybe lean into it. Maybe share a time that you were scared even if you didn’t have an actual time that you were scared of switching schools or even if you have to fabricate a story, something to just make them feel seen. Like, oh, I know the end of the school year. I always felt really sad to miss to say bye to my friends. I remember crying a few times. It does come with a lot of big feelings. (10:47)I know how you feel. I get it and just sitting there and leave it as that without problem solving, but don’t worry, you can call them. Just letting it sit every once in a while is going to go a long way. Something else that’s helpful and might make you feel better about making this conversation about feelings feel more productive almost, or feels like you’re doing something is you can teach your child about the concept of having mixed feelings, which is something that we all experience, but never focus on calling out explicitly. So a lot of kids, especially young kids, have a hard time keeping the idea that you can feel happy and sad about the same thing, or that you can really, really be angry at someone and still love them at the same time. They usually will notice the feeling that’s biggest. So this is why we hear them scream, I hate you. (11:46)You’re the worst mom ever. Because the feeling of hate or anger is so strong that they can’t love you at the same time, they don’t grasp that. So we kind of have to teach them those things and call that out. So talking about the idea of mixed feelings can really help at this time of year. So you might say, I wonder you have so many feelings at this time of school year. I, I’m hearing you talk a lot about feeling sad that you’re going to miss your friends. I’m hearing you feel a little scared about what’s coming in first grade. That makes sense. We don’t know what’s happening. You’ve never been in first grade. Sometimes new things can feel scary. I get that you would say. I also remember you saying earlier this year that you were excited about first grade because you get to play on the big playground or something else that they’ve mentioned, right? (12:37)Are you also feeling a tiny bit excited? Oh, you must be having mixed feelings did you know, can feel sad and excited at the same time? So introducing that kind of concept to them might drive the conversation forward a little bit and might give you something to hang onto to talk about the transition at the end of school year. The other way that I like to talk about feelings, if you have a child who’s really, really sad and just feels like they’re lingering in that I might say, I know you’re so sad about the end of the school year. I get that because you’re going to miss your friends, and I remember that too. It’s really, really hard. Did you know that feelings come and go? They’re kind of like the weather. Sometimes it starts raining for a little bit and I can’t speed up the rain. (13:22)I can’t make it go away. I can wish it to go away, but it’s not going to listen to me. Eventually the rain stops and then the sun comes out and then another day it will become windy and then the wind stops. So feelings are like the weather, they come and go and they change on their own, and we can sit through all of those feelings. So I know you really, really, really feel upset right now, and that makes sense and you’re allowed to feel upset. I also know soon these feelings will go away on their own and you can kind of leave it at that. That’s a great way to talk about the end of the school year feelings. All right, so now we’re going to transition to more talking about what I suggest for you to do at home to optimize regulation. Now, I’m not going to go heavy on actual sensory regulation strategies here because that’s not the point of this episode, and also there are a million different sensory profiles out there that could respond to so many different sensory regulation. I’m more talking about how you stay sane at home if you have a child who’s home more hours in the day than not over summer, if you have a child who’s enrolled in summer camps and all of these extracurriculars. (14:37)I would just suggest being aware that a lot of the busyness and the constant changing between weeks, there are some summer camps where one week is tennis camp, the next week is basketball camp. The next week is gymnastics camp, and it changes week to week. If you have a neurodivergent child, there may be some extra dysregulation around the constant switching the new kids, the new instructors on the other side. There are some neurodivergent kids who benefit from novelty each week. So those are just something to know, but I don’t really have a lot of tips around there because I know there’s not really much that you can change in that aspect. It’s just we need them out of the house for this many hours a day. We need to keep them busy because we still have work and things to do at home, and my best tip for you is to just decrease your demands at home. (15:23)We can’t expect the same level of regulation from them week to week over summer when things like this are constantly changing. So I would not compare their behavior that you see over summer to what you see in the school year, and you might have a child who actually is more regulated over summer than they are in the school year. So it definitely depends. But what I’m focusing on, my tips here is how to structure your day at home over the summer because I do this at home. My daughter is going to be in summer camp, but it’s in a shorter chunk of the day, so I still have her early in the morning, and then I have her also in the afternoon. And these are the same tips that I provide for around the holiday time when they’re over for Christmas and they’re home a lot. (16:09)So my best tip, no matter what age your child, no matter how verbal they are, no matter how smart they are, no matter how good of a memory they have, keep a visual weekly calendar and a daily schedule even for those days when you have nothing scheduled. I would still break down their day into chunks. If you have a child who tends to be dysregulated and does not know what to do with their time at home. When we were little, my mom would just put on the tv. My cousin would come over and be the quote babysitter while my mom would work, and there was no structure for our day, but I did not tend to get dysregulated. I also just would be bored and just watch TV all day. My daughter doesn’t even like to watch TV for that long, and she’s constantly saying she’s bored. (16:59)She’s constantly looking for things to do. She’s constantly whining. She needs structure. And your child might have maybe more intense behaviors around dysregulation, around less structured days because if you think about school, every bit of their day is blocked out into chunks by subject, by activity, by lunch, by snack. So we can still provide that for them at home. And I said, no matter what the age is, because a lot of us think, oh, my kid is 10, and they can make their own schedule or they know what to do or they know the schedule. If you are having some dysregulation at home, I would at least try a weekly schedule because it can just kind of anchor your week, and it takes all of those things that your child knows and that on your head it kind of removes it from your brain and puts it on something so that you now have all this cognitive space to just actually maybe stay regulated and do other important things once it’s kind of out of your brain and dumped onto a calendar. (18:01)So weekly calendar, I have a monthly whiteboard calendar from Target. You could just have a weekly one on paper just to break up their days so they know what’s expected, right? You’re going to the movies on Friday with grandma, you’re having a sleepover on Saturday, putting all that out on a calendar. And then I also have a side calendar that I write day to day, and I break my days up into chunks just like they do at school. So there’s like the before snack chunk, then there’s the snack to lunch chunk, then there’s the after lunch to snack, the next snack chunk, and then between snack and dinner and all of that time in between and then between dinner and bath time. For us, I only need to schedule and write out things on the whiteboard until the afternoon snack time. After that, it’s pretty downhill from there. (18:50)She’s great. It’s going to look different for everyone, but I write down everything like free playtime, screen time, rest time, lunchtime, snack time, outdoor time. It can be anything you want that is going to be on your schedule. If you’re going to target, if you’re going to the store, if they’re going to go out for walking the dog, whatever you need to break into your day, you can put times on there if you want. I prefer not to go by time, but just more of the sequence, the flow of things. And what I like to do is put number of minutes next to each thing because that is what lets my daughter be more independent. So one of our schedules over break is it’s breakfast, and I don’t put a timing next to that cause I let her eat for how long it takes. And then after breakfast I will put outdoor time and I’ll put a 30 next to it. (19:49)Then after outdoor time, I’ll put reading and then maybe 30 or a 20 next to it, and then after reading, I will put play playtime and then a 30 next to it. But all of these things are sort of between outdoor time reading and playtime inside. All of those things are her independent playing, but instead of me just saying, go play for an hour and a half, she’s like, what do I do with that? When I break it down into smaller chunks, it makes her feel more, less overwhelmed and just looking forward to the next thing, which if you have a kid who has a hard time with independent play, this helps a lot breaking a large chunk of time into smaller chunks with structured things. Now, I collaborate with her to do this in the morning and I say, what do you want to do after breakfast? (20:39)Would you rather go outside after breakfast or read your book and then we’ll kind of collaborate from there. So she’s part of that. Then the other piece, this is she uses our time timer, our visual timer. I will put a link for the time timer in the show notes, and what she does is she takes the timer and whenever she goes, oh, it’s time for go outside, and it says 30 next to outside on the schedule. Then she pulls out her timer, drags the little dial to 30, and then she takes the timer with her outside while she plays outside. If you have a child who has a hard time playing outside, I would maybe structure outdoor time and I would say, this is digging time. This is scooter time that however structured and detailed your child might need to be, you can do that for them so that your mourning is more smooth. (21:26)So when I do this, she is the most independent and less, what do I do? I’m bored. Can you do this? We structure it all the time. Now keep in mind, she still has a lot of quote, unstructured, do whatever you want time outside of this. But when I, as the parent at home need to get things done myself and need to be less bothered by her asking things, then I do need to structure her time very specifically. So I want to make that part clear because there are a lot of experts out there and myself included, who say that kids need to be bored. That builds executive functioning skills that kids need to have, not uninterrupted, but unstructured playtime where they can decide what they want to play that’s less scheduled unless timed out. But that’s not my Monday through Friday morning time for her because I need to get work done, and I don’t like to be cruise director and guiding her through everything. So I pick things that I know she can be independent, that she enjoys and set her up for success by providing the time timer. (22:37)Now, aside from that visual schedule at home, which can help add structure to your day and make everything feel a little bit more predictable for them, I still highly recommend adding in some time in the day for rest or recharge or quiet time, whatever you want to call it. Some kids hate calling it quiet time. I still recommend having this. Usually it fits best after lunch. So whether it’s 30 minutes or an hour, she used to do two hours when she was younger. This quiet recharge time is very, very helpful, and this is where you do less structure. This is where there is usually no talking and there’s no screens at this time, and they’re just truly resetting and recharging their batteries, and you get some quiet time after lunch to gear up for the afternoon, right? And then you would reschedule the afternoon. You would do the same thing you did in the morning if you have them home as well. (23:35)I have an entire episode on how I implement Quiet Time and step-by-step instructions for you to get started with quiet time. That is in episode 36. So if you just go to the ot 36, you’ll find that episode. I’ll put a link to it below in the show notes as well. But that is it. Those are all my tips for you this summer. I hope you have the most fun summer, a safe summer, well regulated summer, and I will be back in the fall. Thanks for being here. I hope I still hear from some of you on Instagram. I will still be there all summer as well, and my website has so many resources, and if you want a way to work with me, I am still taking one-on-one coaching calls over summer, and you can find more about slash parent consult. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well. All right, have a great summer. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider rating it and leaving a review, which helps other parents find me as well, want to learn more from me. I share tons more over on Instagram at the OT Butterfly. See you next time.




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Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

I’m an enneagram 6, so my brain is constantly moving. My OT lenses never turn off and I can’t “un-see” the sensory and other developmental skills that go in to literally every activity. I love taking what I see and breaking it down into simple terms so parents can understand what goes into their child’s behavior and skills.

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