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For many young children and their families, the switch from the school year to the summer months offers a wonderful time for free play and exploration. But the summer months can also present serious challenges, given the major transition and loss of a regular and predictable structure. For children with mental health or developmental needs, this sudden transition and loss of structure can be especially difficult. Luckily, there are many specific ways that parents and caregivers can help!

You can tell a child is feeling stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed if they are exhibiting “big behaviors” like temper tantrums on the one hand, or self-isolating or withdrawing from friends and family on the other. Children can also exhibit signs of stress if they sleep significantly more than usual, if they have difficulty sleeping, if they lose their appetite, or if they overeat. Children are incredibly adaptable and resilient. So, they do lots of things to self-soothe. If a child suddenly exhibits significantly more self-soothing behaviors, for example, if a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis suddenly seems to be stimming more than usual, (hand flapping, rocking, spinning) they may be working through acute stress caused by the sudden transition to summer and the accompanying loss of structure.

By utilizing a few simple techniques, caregivers and parents can make all the difference to bridge the gap, support children, and provide stability through the summer months.

  1. Establish and Maintain a Routine: Follow a Stable Bedtime Schedule
    Longer daylight hours can make it difficult for children to stick to their usual bedtime schedule, so some flexibility may be necessary. However, maintaining a similar sleep schedule to the rest of the year, and ensuring that children are getting a consistent amount of rest, will help them stay regulated throughout the day. Creating habits around bedtime — for example, reading, singing, or 30 minutes of tech-free time — can help with transitions and create a sense of continuity.
  2. Keep Consistency in the Environment: Create a “Quiet Corner”
    Especially for children with behavioral and mental health needs like ASD, designated personal space or “quiet corners” can help them calm down and self-regulate. Even a simple corner of the living room can create a space where children can feel secure and comfortable. Quiet corners are great ways to reduce overwhelm, enhance focus and become more independent.
  3. Connect with Community: Include Familiar People
    Children can feel a sense of stability when they connect with people they know and love. That can be as quick and easy as a telephone call or video call. It could also mean setting up a visit, playdate, or overnight with trusted caregivers, teachers, and friends. If a child has therapeutic or other relationships outside of school, maintaining those relationships and schedules through the summer can be especially supportive.
  4. Provide Visual and Sensory Supports: Calendars and Fidgets
    Helping children to interpret the world around them — and self-regulate while they do so — can be especially important when the day’s typical structures aren’t available. Having a calendar visible (on paper, digital platforms, or even interactive setups) can help children understand what’s planned for the day so they can empower themselves to prepare for transitions.  Fidgets — small, hand-held devices or accessories — can go a long way to helping children self-regulate, focus, improve fine motor skills, and deal with anxiety, no matter the time of year.

There are many ways to help kids during change and during those times when life gets less predictable. By implementing these and other strategies with flexibility and compassion for yourself and the child you’re caring for, you’re helping make the world a bit more manageable.

Other Resources: 

Autism Parenting Magazine. (n.d.). Effectiveness of visual schedules for kids with autism. Retrieved from

DeJong, H., Teunisse, J. P., van den Hoofdakker, B. J., Verhoeven, E. W. M., Slot, W., & Maras, A. (2022). “Exploring the effectiveness of a school-based intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder: A pilot randomized controlled trial.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 63(9), 1018-1027.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2018). Promoting powerful interactions. Teaching Young Children. Retrieved from

Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Summer sleep routines. Retrieved from

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