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Kids and Unstructured Time

December 27, 2010

Being homebound after a blizzard reminded me of a newsletter article I wrote last year about kids and unstructured time. I thought it was appropriate for today so I updated it a bit…

This last week of December can be both enjoyable and difficult. For many, daycare or school programs may be closed. Parents may not have their usual work routines this week. This can provide the opportunity for some relaxed, fun family time. However, it can also provide the environment for more crankiness and meltdowns. Kids thrive on routines and when we know that the routine will be disrupted, we have to give some special thought and preparation to how we will handle that.

With all my early intervention and preschool special education clients, I always ask parents about their thoughts and plans before vacation weeks. Most have given it some thought, but for those who haven’t yet, I hope to plant the seeds for some planning.

So what’s the best way to deal with unstructure and behavior? My first advice is to expect some change as normal and usually temporary. When children’s routines are thrown out of order, you should expect some changes in behavior as a consequence. Depending on your child’s unique nature and temperament, the magnitude of the behavior changes will vary. The changes I’ve seen most commonly are changes in sleep behaviors and an increase in irritability. If you are confident and trust that you will be able to reestablish routines when necessary, you are more likely to be successful in your interactions with your kids. If you over-react to your child’s behavior changes, you may unintentionally undermine yourself and contribute to more difficult behavior from your kids. Your child may need both extra support and extra firmness from you during unstructured times and in the times immediately following when you try to get back on track.

You can also help your child by making a conscious and spoken effort to truly enjoy the benefits of the unstructured times. It can be great to sleep a little later and to have more down time. Enjoy it. Further, let your kids know that you are enjoying the specialness of this break from everyday routines.

And finally, try to add structure to the unstructure. Plan playdates and other outings. Try to keep nap and meal times as regular as possible. Plan some craft activities (like making thank you notes) or cook together. Plan some outdoor activities together as well.

For some ideas for indoor activities with kids, check out the sites below (and please share with me any other ideas you may have so that I can share with other readers!):

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