The word evokes images of lazy days reading in a hammock with a cold glass of lemonade close at hand. School’s out. The sun’s out. There’s not a care in the world. Unless you’re one of many gifted kids (or their parents) for whom summer isn’t so great.
The transition from school to summer can often be a difficult one for kids who crave routine and require
intellectual challenge and imaginational outlets. Add intense emotions to the mix, a low frustration
tolerance, or our overly hectic over-committing tendencies, and watch out! Those idyllic days of
relaxation can quickly flip into emotional outbursts filled with blood, sweat, and tears.
Many of our gifted kids, especially those who are twice exceptional, often struggle with the unknown.
Their brains require a sense of structure, pattern, and predictability. Summer schedules often vary from
week to week, if not day to day, and this fluctuation can trigger heightened anxiety, which can be
expressed in all sorts of complicated ways (aggression, somatic complaints, fear, clinginess, emotional
outbursts, obsessions or compulsions).
One way to help these kiddos is to provide visual schedules and inform them ahead of time what they
can expect from the next day. Lay out, in a visual format with either printed words or even pictures,
what a day’s or week’s expected schedule will look like. Review it with the child and ask the child where
they’d like to hang it so they can review it as often as they need. If every day looks different, create a
new schedule for every day, or use a hanging pocket calendar that can easily be updated. Of course,
always remind them (and ourselves!) that life sometimes interferes with our intended schedules, so we
may need some flexibility, too.
Boredom is another BIG trigger for our gifted and 2E kids. And, if a gifted child is bored, you’ll either be
at the receiving end of another emotional outburst, or you’ll find that your brand new vacuum cleaner
has been disassembled and you are now the proud owner of 5 mini robot ninjas. Being bored can be a
really helpful emotion, as it often sparks real creativity. However, for our kids without the executive
functioning and emotion regulation skills to channel their boredom, they’re going to need our assistance
to get them going.
A couple of ideas to prevent the boredom explosions:
Work with the child at the beginning of the summer, or end of the school year, to create a list of
boredom busters. Brainstorm (no idea is a bad one!) as many ideas as possible and then evaluate each
idea to create your final boredom buster list. Once you’ve developed the list and written or typed it out
in a cool-looking sort of way, have the child put it someplace that they can refer to it whenever they’re
bored. An added bonus – anytime you hear those whiny words, “I’m bored”, you can just direct them to
the list instead of having to hear it or brainstorm with them on the spot!
Another idea is to help the child select a project they want to work on for the summer. Let them choose
whatever topic they are interested in so it’s interesting, motivating, and fun for them. They are in
complete control of their project. They choose a topic, explore it in as many different ways as possible
(or at least in as many different ways as they can think of), create something related to their topic (could
be an art project, youtube video, play, poem, website, musical piece, podcast, etc), and then share their
creation with someone. Since it’s entirely directed by the child, it won’t “feel like school”, but it will
certainly keep their brains and imaginations engaged. Your role as the adult in their life is to simply
provide supplies and ask questions. Otherwise, let them fly with it!
And, finally, why not use the slower pace of summer to actually help our fast-paced kids learn how to
slow down. Help lead them in a few mindfulness moments. Our kids’ brains are generally going 500
miles a minute, which leads to overwhelm, anxiety, sleep disturbance, etc when not regulated well.
Teach them to take a few moments every day to simply be present in the moment. Help them focus
their thoughts on one of their external senses and simply notice what they notice, without judgment.
Teach them to slow down, and while you’re doing that, you might just learn how to slow down, too!
Which might even bring about that idyllic summer day of laying in the sun, relaxing on the hammock.