Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

August 29, 2023

End of Summer Transitions and How to Manage Them

By: Meredith Allen, OTD, OTR/L

It’s that time of year again- the kids are back in school, after-school sports and activities are starting, and you and your kids’ schedule is packed full again. This is also a time when there are some big transitions for children. This may include transitions to a new school or classroom, meeting new people, making new friends, learning new skills, and experiencing higher levels of demands academically and socially. Not to mention, transitions between home, school, and after school programs/sports/activities. These transitions can result in more frequent moments of dysregulation for kids.

These moments can look like:

  • “Holding it together” all day, then coming home and having a meltdown that can last for a couple minutes to a couple hours.
  • Easily getting upset over something you would consider to be a small problem (i.e. you cut their grilled cheese the “wrong” way)
  • High levels of energy in the evening (or morning); “bouncing off the walls” and struggling to settle down for bed, adhere to the usual bedtime routine, or even start their morning routine. Or alternatively, coming home or starting their day being very inactive or withdrawn (i.e. only wanting to watch tv or secluding themselves to their room).
  • Increased negative self-talk or negative talk directed at others
  • Overall decreased frustration tolerance. Your child may be easily deterred by a challenging task or be unwilling to try something new
  • Increased pickiness with meals and routines; general unwillingness or difficulty with an unexpected change in routine.
  • Increased desire to implement control in routines (i.e. what they eat, when they go to bed, etc).

If these moments are occurring for your child, there are ways to help! Here are some end of summer sensory activities that can aid with helping your child regulate prior to going to school or out for the day, when they arrive home for end of day, and transitions between. The sensory activities listed below help to calm and regulate your child’s sensory system to help them regulate their emotions and behaviors.

Before School/ Start of Day:

  • Go for a morning walk! Whether this is with your child in the stroller or if your child is old enough to go on a walk with you (and maybe your family pup!). This is also a great time to connect with your child, talk about expectations for the day, things they are excited or worried about, or just take in the sights and sounds of nature.
  • Involve your child in “heavy work” chores: taking out the trash, moving over or taking out the laundry, helping pick vegetables/other items from your garden (or pull some weeds!), and or picking up their toys.
  • Morning sensory bins: If it is hard to get your kids outside in the morning for an activity (or you are like me, and are not a morning person), you can involve your kids in a ready to go activity like a sensory bin. Sensory bins can be filled with anything such as sand, uncooked beans or rice, smooth rocks, etc. I recommend rice or beans as clean-up is much easier! Add in fun things to dig for/find (small toys you already have at home are great, or you can find some small toy items on Amazon or occasionally in the Target dollar section). Provide the kids with spoons, scoops, other fun (safe) utensils from the kitchen, an extra bowl for scooping beans into, and you are good to go! You can reuse your sensory bin if you keep it stored in a plastic container, and switch out items kids are finding on a weekly or biweekly basis to keep it interesting.
  • Go to the playground! Playgrounds offer a variety of experiences including digging in sand (good heavy work), linear vestibular input (swinging), and good proprioceptive input (running, jumping, climbing), which are all regulating types of sensory input.

After school:

  • Go to the playground (yes, again!). If you are able to (and your child is school aged), spend 15-20 minutes on the school playground prior to transitioning to the car for the ride home or next activity if you are able.
  • Heavy work (additional ideas): do wall pushes or push-ups, fill a laundry bin with heavy items and have your child push it across the carpet, help carry in the groceries( especially the heavy items), jump on the trampoline, play tug of war, eat chewy or harder to chew snacks if you have an older child (i.e. fruit leather), create a “crash pad” with pillows from bed or couch pillows where kids can safely run and jump onto the “pad”, sit on the couch with a weighted blanket if winding down for bed, trying to focus on homework, or complete another seated task.
  • Fun summer based sensory ideas: flashlight tag, catch fireflies, set up a tent in the backyard (have the kids help; this can also be a fun place to create a comfy place with some pillows and read a story with the fireflies), set up the water table or play in the sprinkler, have a water balloon “fight”, have a light show (finger puppets), lay down a blanket and try to find the constellations in the stars.

In the car transitions:

  • Play calming or “pump up” music for kids, depending on their regulation state and preference. Alternatively, some kids may need quiet- noise cancelling head phones can be a helpful tool in this situation.
  • Provide a preferred snack or drink. Something that is crunchy or has big flavor can be more alerting for kids who need an after school pick me up.
  • Play “I spy” or the “ABC” game in the car
  • Play the categories game (you name a category such as animals and you and your child name animals)
  • Listen to an audio book (for kids who need more of a calm approach to transitions) or a podcast

The car is also the perfect time to provide your child with a game plan (i.e. first, you are going to soccer practice, then we will go home to take a shower and get ready for bed) and overall check in on how their day has been and what their general regulation level is (is their engine running slow, fast, or “just right”).

Transitions can be very hard for kids (and adults too), but providing children with opportunities to engage in sensory regulating input can decrease frustration and frequent meltdowns. If a meltdown does happen, focus on calming your child first. Once they are calm, then you can talk with them about what happened and what may be a better choice to make the next time big feelings or complex situations come their way.

Happy end of summer!

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