Helping adopted kids cope with school summer holidays

School’s out for summer, and my kids have the jitters. Why? Being adopted, they thrive on routine and structure. With no school, their anxiety levels rise, and old habits reappear: tears, tantrums, picking fights, inability to sit still, chewing – fingers, hair, clothes and if things get really bad, eczema. Crikey, I need to start thinking about helping my adopted kids cope with the school summer holidays.

We’ve dealt with quite a few school summer holidays, and now have a few tactics that help keep the kids’ meltdowns to a minimum and keep us sane.

Helping adopted kids cope with school summer holidays

Routine

We put in place our holiday routine. It’s simple stuff like different cereals at breakfast, being able to watch a bit of TV after breakfast. We stick steadfastly to meal-times and put in place holiday bedtimes that are a little later than normal.

Planning and structure

My friends with birth children think I am bonkers, but I have our days planned out in advance of the holiday. By May, our summer playschemes are secured, and our free days are booked up with trips to see friends or excursions. This does mean we can’t make last-minute invites for picnics in the park. But having a plan works for us.

This year, I have even written out a daily timetable so they know exactly what’s happening when. So far so good.

Colour-coded calendar

In the early days, this was essential.

I’d buy coloured sticky dots and mark up the days of the summer holiday. Each activity had a  colour: play-scheme, staying at home day, excursion day, a Daddy’s at home day and weekends had their own colour too. For my kids the summer holidays seemed endless, this helped break down the days into manageable chunks helping to minimise anxiety.

Play-schemes

I’m a big fan of play schemes.

I used to beat myself up over sending my kids to these. But my social worker encouraged me, “Your kids are really active, they need to be occupied.” Of course, she was right.  With anxiety levels running sky-high, they need to be in a place where their day is highly structured and routine – just like school! I still use play schemes. There are plenty of providers. Summer Fun for Kids lists a wide choice across the UK. Now we are in France, I am making the most of the excellent state provided schemes.

And when the kids are in bed

Crack open the wine! I have survived another day!

Then there’s taking adopted kids away on holiday

If being off school for six weeks, now eight weeks, isn’t bad enough, even worse is to leave home, go to another house, apartment or hotel, possibly in another country, with different food, tastes, smells and be expected to enjoy it, have fun and be happy – whoopee we’re on holiday.

Yup going away on holiday is a traumatic experience for our kids.

For some adopted children packing suitcases is a reminder of moving to another home along with the uncertainty of not returning, and the fear of losing everything they know.

To deal with this, we need our own strategic coping plan otherwise, well let’s not go there.

Our holiday coping plan

Toys

The kids can take one of their favourite cuddly toys away – of packable and portable dimensions. If Super Girl had her way we’d have to bring a truckload of cuddlies. And just to be fair each toy gets a turn at going on holiday. And of course, plenty of books and DVDs accompany us on our trip.

Our family book

Before our kids came to live with us we had to make a family photo book to show our soon-to-be adopted children their new family, new house, bedroom, toys and garden etc. This book has become an essential holiday staple making sure we don’t forget our house (the one back in England), and we know where we are going back to (eventually).

Sleep countdown chart

This helped a lot in the early days, just a simple calendar so we can countdown chart to cross out the number of sleeps until we get home back to security, routine and comfort.

Where are we sleeping?

After we book our holiday we always show the kids where we are going, how we are getting there – plane, train or the holiday car. They love looking at the accommodation deciding which bed will be theirs. I guess this helps reduce their anxiety levels and gives them a sense of familiarity before arrival.

Fear of flying

One of our first trips was to Northern Ireland to visit family. For this, we had to fly. The kids had never flown before and this caused all sorts of anxieties, in particular, would the plane fall out of the sky. King of the Mountains took them to London City Airport to watch planes take off and land, assuring the kids they’d be OK. So far so good.

Types of holidays for adopted children

We’ve figured out certain holidays work really well for us:

  • Skiing – perfect holiday for our kids, routine combined with full on activity, and it’s the same every day! OK not great for summer and South America is far too expensive!
  • Camping – this worked really well, the kids could run off and explore, make friends with other kids, just return to be fed and watered before finally crashing into their sleeping bags completely exhausted. Result!
  • Having our own apartment/house –we have our own space, we can stick to our own routine, with our own food – this works well for us. Even if we are with relatives, it’s just better that we have our own place and space. Trust me, it just is.

We’ve been through a few school summer holidays and each year they have got easier to deal with. The kids know what to expect and I am better at managing their anxiety. But they we still suffer from the odd blip, outburst or tantrum, well if we didn’t wouldn’t life be a bore!

How do you cope with the summer holidays – let me know, maybe you have a few tips you can share!

Photo credit Michelle Milla courtesy of Flickr

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30 Comments

  1. Awesome blog. Love your approach to life and to your adopted kids. I’m also a fan of routine and structure. All the best with you new life in Paris! Great choice to holiday in Montpellier. Pretty region with sandy beaches, less people and more affordable than the Riviera for sure!

    • Oh thank you so much, I am delighted you dropped by! Yes routine is key on our household, if we don’t have it we loose it! I glad you enjoyed the Montpellier post, you are so right, much less crowded than the Riviera, very beautiful too! Have a wonderful day!

  2. You are such a wonderful and dedicated mum. I too do Play-schemes during half-term for my boy. He is also very active kid, otherwise he would watching tele all day and that would be very sad. I really like the “Our family book” too, such a wonderful idea. Sometimes, when going away for a long period of time, kids a be forgetful even with the persons who are dear to them. Thank you so much for sharing your helpful tips on #FabFridayPost
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    • Ohh thank you! The long holiday can be a tough one, my kids miss the routine and miss their friends, play schemes put a little regularity back into their lives.

  3. I love how much effort you put into making sure your children feel comfortable and secure and how much you understand what they need from you. I am a planner too and have activities planned out well in advance for the whole holiday – I love the idea of sticker dots to take it a step further though. Routines are everything with children! Thanks so much for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove

  4. I think a lot of what you’ve said is something everyone can use for their kids, at any age. Is never considered how just so much more important it would be for adopted kids and it’s great that you’ve been so mindful of their need for structure and a sense of control. I may try some of these techniques with my 20 month old toddler – showing pictures on a chart of what we do each day of the week may generally and make her more interested (or less resistant!) in getting ready and getting out the door! Good luck with the long holidays – it sounds like you have a fun filled 8 weeks scheduled for you all!

    • Thank you! I do think most kids thrive on routine, it helps to make them feel settled. It’s just with adopted kids, the previous lives have been so chaotic, that even the slightest change to routine can cause havoc! But we’re two weeks in and so far so good.

    • Hey delighted to be part of it all! Thanks for being so welcoming. TMx

  5. I can really relate to this. My children aren’t adopted but my eldest is autistic and many of his anxieties are managed with the same techniques. Hope it goes as smoothly as it can!

    • Thank you. I have friends whose kids are autistic, and we share some similar behaviours. We have our survival strategy in place, and meltdowns are easier to deal with. Keeping our fingers crossed!

    • That colour coded calendar was an essential in the early days so the kids could work out what was happening over the six weeks. It’s much better now!

    • Adventuring sounds wonderful, maybe one day when the kids are older and they can cope with a bit of spontaneity!

    • Thank you, the early days were tough, but its got easier. In France they have brilliant childcare – which I am making the most of. The eight weeks are going to whizz by!

  6. Wow what an illuminating post would never have considered the impact a break in routine could have thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you! It’s my kids that love the routine and structure that school gives.

    • Thank you. Kids do seem to love routine, a little planning does make things easer!

  7. I love how in touch with their needs you are. I’ve worked with highly anxious children who were fostered or going through the adoption process – it’s often hard identifying triggers at first. I think you’ve done an amazing job of identifying their holiday anxieties and helping keep them as low as possible. I think most children do well with routines in some way or another – your tips, especially the home book, are super and ones worth using! Thank you for this post x

    • Thank you! I am so touched. And just like clockwork last night my son brought up that he was worried about going away on holiday. Even after a number of years the anxiety never really leaves.

  8. Our kids are older now, hit when younger used to do most of this and c wish we’d thought of some others! One additional thing we did was to research daily activities when away, download internet photos in advance, use them to ‘trail’ the day, and then create a daily picture diary at the end of each day with their own pictures and comments added. They’re now kept in memory boxes!

    • Trailing the day sounds like a brilliant idea, it’s such a great way to capture memories and show the kids, you know what holidays aren’t so bad!

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