Are you excited or stressed by the prospect of unstructured time with your atypical kids?
Many parents are overwhelmed at the thought of planning summer activities for their neurodiverse family. If that's you, you're not alone.
- Do you have great ideas, but give up when your kids shoot all of them down?
- Do you force your kids to do activities that you choose, and regret it later?
- Do you start off planning to work on key skills with your kids, but give up under the overwhelm of it all?
- Do your fantasies get waylaid by the reality of parenting your atypical kids?
- Do you love the beach but your kid’s sensory sensitivities make sand torture?
- Do you end up giving up and just hoping to keep them from fighting and off their screens?
Imagine a summer filled with joy and contentment, not just for your kids but for your whole family, including YOU! How would you feel? Would it be memorable?
Make Joyful Memories With Just a Little Preparation
When we’re parenting intense, atypical kids, it helps to get "buy-in," have a loose plan, communicate visually, and have a toolkit of practices to help you stay calm.
I used to feel responsible for planning the whole summer myself. When my son balked at a lot of the activities I had chosen for him, I felt more and more resentful, because I believed I was "doing it all for him." So many of my plans were driven by external "shoulds," and I wasn't even aware that I had needs of my own. Then, when my son was in kindergarten I learned a process to collaboratively create a family mission statement. It was hard at first, but eventually we were able to clarify our family's shared values and priorities. I simplified it until we were all comfortable with the process and we could repeat it often. It helps us understand where each member of the family is coming from. There are certain things we all agree on, and priorities that we don't share. Getting it all out on the table, literally, gives us some perspective.
In this article, you can expect to:
- Practice calming skills you can take with you anywhere.
- Learn a simple process to create a summer family mission statement
- Co-create realistic plans and goals as a family.
- Prioritize everyone’s feelings and needs, including your own.
Did you know you can listen to a series of podcasts on planning for summer with your neurodiverse family? It's on YouTube too!
How to Create a Simple Summer Family Mission Statement:
Schedule a family meeting during a low-stress time when everyone is already together. What's the most relaxed and connected time for your family? Dessert? Sunday morning after pancakes?
Make sure everyone knows in advance that their input is needed. If family members are resistant, or wondering how long it will take, set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes (less for younger kids). In that time, get down as much raw data as you can. Then, call another meeting to complete the process. This is not a one shot deal. You can revise as much as you like, and everyone should have the power to call a family meeting to discuss the plan.
I suggest you all start with a breathing pattern to cool off and calm down together:
Ice Cream Breath
This breath (sitali pranayam) looks funny, so it is great for breaking tension. Teach it to your kids. They can imagine sipping a milkshake through the straw they make with their tongue. Ask, “What flavor is yours?”
- Stick out your tongue, and curl up the sides like a U (if genetically possible).
- Breathe in through the straw created by your curled tongue (or over your extended tongue).
- Breathe out slowly through your nose.
- Continue for 5 or more rounds.
Here's a video you can follow along with on YouTube:
After chilling out together, take out paper and something to write with.
1. Ask everyone, "How do we want to FEEL this summer?"
Write down all answers. Use as much extra paper as you need. If you have young children or non-speaking kids, ask for their input in their own way. Just the act of asking and actively listening to each family member is important to the process. They might gesture or draw. You know your kids, so help and coach them until you get the essence of what’s important to them. Be their translator. Check in often to see that you have it right, but don't get into a "Yes/No" dynamic with them.
This inquiry includes you and other adults. Everyone contributes. This is where we can all dream. Every single feeling gets written down. Do not edit anything at this stage. One year, I asked this question, and my husband said “WAVES” so we made sure to feel waves that summer. You will get to know each other’s priorities in this stage.
2. Ask everyone, "How are we going to make these feelings happen?"
Take out another sheet of paper and brainstorm things to do. Pause often to listen. Write absolutely everything. Don’t shoot down any ideas. Redirect back to the question as often as needed. Take breaks and return to the list of feelings fresh. Take time with this step. Every feeling gets written down. Get creative. Make sure everyone has something to look forward to.
Do not leave yourself out, or you‘ll be unmotivated to implement the plan. In order to show up as your best self, you need to get clear on your own feelings and needs. So, get some activities on the list that would fulfill your own wishes.
3. Make everyone's dreams come true.
Group similar ideas together, then have everyone circle their one top priority. Find a way to make each person's top priority happen. Wait, before you scream at me: It doesn’t have to be literal. You can give wishes in fantasy. You can get creative. If a trip overseas isn’t realistic, build an airplane and play an airplane game, then research recipes from the region… You know, all that stuff that takes more effort than Netflix. Or, find something about the region on Netflix!
Giving wishes in fantasy, when done respectfully and with enthusiasm, helps kids feel seen. It can be exciting for them to a be part of imagining a way to get their needs met. It is important to know what the core longing is before trying to give it in fantasy.
If my kid wants to go to Paris, and I say we will make crèpes, but he really wants to go to Paris to explore the Catacombs, crèpes won't cut it. So, be a detective. Listen closely, ask questions, and be willing to research unconventional solutions. Maybe there's a dusty crawlspace you can transform with some skulls into Catacombs, or maybe you can find a similar spooky experience closer to home. You will not regret giving wishes in fantasy. Make sure your ideas are age-appropriate, so no one feels condescended to. Make sure whoever’s priority it is is also brainstorming solutions, not just shooting them down.
4. Make it visible by posting a summer calendar.
After focusing on the top priority for each person, schedule them around anything that's already in place. Now, schedule in downtime together. Don't pack your schedule, and keep it as flexible as your family can handle. Post the schedule where everyone can see and refer to it. Put it on the fridge or another high-visibility spot.
When Kids Feel Seen and Heard, They Cooperate
This process can help each family member feel heard and seen. It can also help your kids understand why you want to do whatever your priority is. It helps everyone to know their own “why,” and also to understand each other better. Getting to the “why” is an essential ingredient of a respectful relationship.
What do you do with all those other great ideas? You now have a treasure box of ideas for activities to inspire your spontaneity, and a list of target feelings to keep you all motivated.
Review and revise all summer! This is a way to start cooperatively planning, not an end goal. Buy-in to your summer plans will increase dramatically when you create a family mission statement together. Actively listening to each family member is transformative.
Want More Support?
If our family can do this, I know your family can too and I want to walk alongside you. If you're reading this in real time, you can get more support. I'm offering a live online workshop June 15.
Sign up now and I will walk you through this process and answer all your questions.
If you want more guidance, and to connect with other parents, join our workshop for parents of intense atypical kids who are ready to learn how to guide their family towards a fun and relaxing summer plan.
With me, Kate Lynch.
What if September came and you felt truly grateful and rejuvenated after months of calm, fun and cooperation with your family? Imagine a summer filled with joy and contentment, not just for your kids but for your whole family, including YOU! Would it be memorable?
I'm not promising nonstop bliss or perfection. We all know there will still be struggles this summer. We’re offering a realistic way to make a relaxed yet purposeful plan with your family, based on everyone’s needs.
Get support and strategies to implement a relaxed planning session with your unique family. Download tools and templates to use with your family so everyone can visualize a more joyful, purposeful and mindful summer!
- Practice calming tools you can take with you anywhere.
- Get downloadable templates you can print and customize
Co-create realistic plans and goals as a family.
Prioritize everyone’s feelings and needs, including your own.
Troubleshoot and role play the process, and get your questions answered.
Connect with a community of parents who get it.
- We will stay on to answer all your questions, and follow-up emails are included.
Don’t put planning for summer off any longer! We will teach you some calming techniques, walk you through the steps, and answer all your questions. You'll learn a repeatable process to involve the whole family in planning for maximum chill this summer.
If you missed the workshop, no worries, you can listen to the podcast!
How Your Neurodivergent Family Can Prep for a Summer Filled With Fun and Relaxation
Listen (or watch video podcasts) for support and strategies to co-create a fun, relaxed summer with your unique family.
...Enjoy Summer Prep For Maximum Chill! Please be part of the conversation by commenting below.
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