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Understanding Summertime “Meltdowns”

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

It's summertime! There is no school, a lot of flexibility with schedules, and many fun camps and activities. So, we all expect our children to be thrilled and content all day, right? Maybe or maybe not… Some parents find that since the summer break has started, their children suddenly have become triggered by the smallest thing at the end of the day. Why do you think they throw these tantrums or meltdowns before dinner and/or bedtime?


A child in a field covering his eyes with his hands

Many of us with kiddos, especially elementary school-aged kids, can relate to these questions. As a registered clinical counsellor and caregiver, I found that reflecting on our children’s schedules and how much structure (or lack thereof) they have over the summer can be helpful. Here are some questions to ask yourself:


Has my child’s sleep routine changed?

o Are they going to bed later? Waking up earlier? Oversleeping?

o Is it too hot and bright in their room, which could be causing poorer sleep quality?


  1. Is my child eating at regular mealtimes? Are the meals usually healthy? Are there too many sweets or processed food in the mix?

  2. Is my child attending the same summer camp all summer, or is their schedule changing every week, like bike camp one week and swim lessons the next (Different times, people, places etc.)?

  3. Do we FEEL busy? Are we trying to take advantage of the summer days and nights, but it’s starting to feel like we are constantly GO GO GO and never home?

If you answered “YES” to some (or all) of these questions, here are some simple and research-proven strategies that help reduce evening meltdowns:


Sleep impacts emotions


Find out how much sleep your child should get a night for their age – think about what time they need to wake in the morning and count back from that. For example, if my child needs 10 hours of sleep and they need to be up at 7 am, then I have to get my child to bed before 9.


According to research, typically, elementary-aged children need 9-11 hours of sleep, while teens need 8-10 hours of sleep at night.


Remember: Kids need an hour of screen-free time before bed to help their brains to slow down and transition to sleep.


Slowdown in the evening


Yes – our kids can become overtired and overstimulated throughout the day and sometimes just before bedtime. This can lead to kids having difficulty managing big feelings and falling asleep!




What to do? Find opportunities in the day for your child to slow down. Maybe that’s as simple as having an hour of quiet time before bed, or if they get home from summer camp and you can see they are starting to slide, don’t send them out for an additional evening bike ride or play at the park.


Healthy, consistent, and well-balanced meals are essential no matter what


With less structure in the summer, you may find it challenging to have meals at set times. A rule of thumb is to ensure your child has three meals daily and healthy snacks in between.


Try to limit their sugar intake to special occasions or the weekends.


Also, make sure they drink water (not sugary drinks) throughout the day.


Constant changes in routine can be stressful and overstimulating


Find a way to build more predictability and routine into the child’s day, starting with a consistent wake-up and bedtime, a simple morning or evening ritual you do as a family. For example, we have a regular bedtime routine in our house, no matter where we are. It involves PJs, brushing teeth, reading two books in bed, singing two songs, and then lights off.


A child getting ready for bed time by brushing his teeth

If you have a child who struggles with adjustments/transitions, especially when going to new places, pick a community agency that offers multiple camps in the same location. For example, my daughter’s before, and after-school care program has a summer camp for July.


“BUT KELLY, WHAT DO WE DO IF THEY ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF A MELTDOWN? HOW CAN WE HELP?”


Stay calm! To do this in a stressful moment, practice your self-calming skills regularly, so you can keep it cool when needed. For example, this could be having 5 to 15 minutes a day to practice mindfulness, meditation and/or relaxation skills.


There are lots of guided exercises through apps that are listed on our resources page!


Find your own outlet for stress. Remember, it’s not selfish to take time for yourself. Self-care allows us to be more regulated individuals, which ultimately leads to more calm & effective parenting. That could be as simple as listening to music in your car or watching a YouTube video that makes you laugh for 5 minutes before you pick up your child at the end of the day.


Wooden blocks spelling out s message to be be calm, relaxed, and to remember to breathe

Remember, for kids, it’s typically “monkey see, monkey do” for learning. So, if you lose it, it won’t help!


If you need extra support (many of us parents do!), connect with a therapist that works with adults and/or caregivers of children. Our clinic has some suggestions.


Final Tips


  • Practice emotional regulation strategies regularly with your child when they are NOT in distress. This could be as simple as in bed at night practicing a couple of belly breaths together, or when in the car on the way to camp, you practice coming up with positive affirmations or chants they can say to themselves when overwhelmed.


  • If the meltdowns seem to be happening more frequently and are beginning to impact your child and family’s daily functioning, this would be an excellent time to consult a mental health practitioner who works with children and families for additional guidance and support.


  • Check out the resources listed below or visit our website’s resource page for additional parenting resources. I personally love the resources from Dr. Becky Kennedy's “Good Inside.” If you follow her on social media, she offers great role plays on responding during a meltdown.


We still have one more month of summer break. I hope you find these tips helpful and have an unremarkable time before school starts!


Have a fantastic summer!

Kelly Archer, M.A., RCC


For more information about Kelly, check out her page on our website.


All the best from Kelly Archer & the Beacon team!


NOTE about the Author: Kelly Archer has a MA in Counselling Psychology and over a decade of experience working with children, youth, and families within the mental health field. She is also a mother of two kiddos.



INFORMATION & RESOURCES:

  • SLEEP

  • NUTRITION

https://happyhealthyeaters.com/

  • Apps for guided mindfulness & Relaxation practice

o FOR KIDS (Apps):

- Smiling Mind

- Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame

- Mindful Powers

- Children’s sleep meditations


o FOR ADULTS (Apps)

- Headspace

- Calm

- Mindshift

- Parenting resources:

o Information on co-regulation:


o PODCASTS:

- Ask Lisa (The psychology of parenting with Dr. Lisa Damour)

- The Anxiety DR

- DEAR ANXIETY

- TILT PARENTING: Raising Differently Wired Kids - By Debbie Reber

- Good Inside with Dr. Becky

- The Child Psych Podcast


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