Our kids head off to school or day care and we sometimes hear or see glimpses of what their day has been like. A photo of them painting or in the sandpit, or a quick comment that they borrowed new library books or played handball at lunch. We might be lucky enough to hear about a disagreement with a friend, or a teacher being away. Or perhaps you receive a detailed minute by minute recount!
Just like in our adult lives, there are stressors and little hurdles that our kids are dealing with on a daily basis, that we sometimes don’t even know about. They didn’t get picked for a team in PE, the tuckshop had run out of their favourite snack, they lost their jumper, forgot to bring in their homework, or didn’t get to finish a preferred task. Maybe they were late for the bus, heard about a birthday party they didn’t get invited to, or their teacher put them in a different maths group, away from their friends.
All these little stressors can build up during the day. Some kids have the ability to recover from these ‘blips’ in the day relatively easily, whilst others find it more challenging, but every child will have their limit before the intense emotions overflow. Add in a child who experiences difficulties processing their sensory world, or navigating social situations or finds aspects of learning challenging, and we can really start to appreciate why sometimes our kids appear to go from zero to 100 in terms of their emotions when they arrive to the safety of our care and their home some afternoons or evenings.
You might like to think about your child’s ability to cope with changes and stressors like a phone battery. Some children start off their day with a fully charged battery, which gives them a greater capacity to deal with the challenges of the day. Adequate sleep and rest, as well as the importance of healthy foods are just some of the important factors for a fully charged battery at the start of a day.
Many of our kids return home after a day at school or day care with batteries that are in desperate need of charging, either their batteries are ‘flat’ or a ‘low battery’ warning is flashing! We often see this in their behaviour. Helping your child to recognise this and carving out time to ‘recharge their battery’ is a helpful skill that parents can support children to develop. You might say ‘Wow, looks like you’ve had a big day. Let me help you feel more comfortable’. A child’s recharge strategies will be very individual and specific, depending on their needs and preferences. It may involve movement or alternatively down time. It might involve being with others, or having some alone time. Some days your child might ‘recharge’ quickly, whilst other days they may need more time. We can appreciate that as adults, we often experience this also, with self care being a common theme in workplaces and amongst parents. What we’re talking about here is self care for our kids. This is particularly important as the pace of life can be so busy, in terms of schooling and household demands.
You might like to help your child create a little list of ‘recharge’ ideas that you could display on the fridge. Some common ideas include:
Trampoline, walking the dog, playing a movement based game
Visiting a local playground
Snuggle time on the lounge with an adult reading a favourite story book
Preferred pretend play (dressing up, Lego, ‘shops’)
Art and craft
Watering plants or gardening
Yoga, breathing activities or mindful colouring in
Access to music, fidgets and other sensory items
Playing a game or doing an activity with an adult or sibling
Using bath time for play and connection time
Your OT can help you with this process if you’re unsure, and in making suggestions that suit your child’s individual needs and preferences. As parents we can help to structure afternoon and evening times to carve out and have pockets of ‘recharge’ time for our kids. Take a moment to reflect on your child’s after school activities. Are these activities ‘recharging’ your child? Could they be draining their batteries? Consider what is the best mix of extra curricular activities for your child and their individual needs. For many of our younger children and primary school aged kids, recharge time that involves loving connection with a parent or adult is often a great way of ‘recharging’. Think about how you can regularly connect with your child for pockets of time to help them learn this important life skill.
Written by Tina Wheldon, Playsense OT senior occupational therapist.
24th May 2023.