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Two Simple Executive Function Strategies to Avoid Family Stress & Stay Connected During Summer Break

Two Simple Executive Function Strategies to Avoid Family Stress & Stay Connected During Summer Break

© 2023 Think Social Publishing, Inc.

Summer break can be a great time for kids to relax and have fun, but it can also be a time when change and lack of structure are the norm, which can be stressful for kids and parents alike. In this article, we share two executive function strategies for creating a summer break schedule that’s full of choices and gives kids some responsibility for coming up with healthy ways to entertain themselves while staying connected with the family. These strategies can help kids stay on track, learn new things, and have fun, including: creating menus of options, making a group plan, setting goals for the summer, making time for relaxation, and staying flexible.

For many students it’s officially summer break. No routine, no schedule! Wait…no routine and no schedule?! That means the routine and schedule of the academic year that gave consistent and predictable structure is gone. With those elements missing from the day-to-day, or changing from week to week, the summer break can be a stressful one. We’d like to share a couple of strategies/tools that we rely on routinely to help kids and their families connect with each other and collaborate to reduce the stress and anxiety that unstructured time and change in routine might elicit.

Creating menus of options with your child

There are several strategies and tools that many of the families we work with have found helpful to talk about, plan for, and create structure and predictability. One of our favorites, shared by SLPs and executive function experts Sarah Ward and Kristen Jacobsen (, is to create different menus of options for kids to choose from that include a balance of activity choices for body, brain, family, community, and you. Since the thinking (coming up with ideas of interest) has already happened, these previously generated ideas are a familiar go-to resource for in-the-moment planning. For example, the physical activity (body) menu might include such options as going for a walk, swimming, shooting hoops, or skating. And the menu of options for unstructured time (you) might include reading, drawing, watching a show, listening to an audiobook, building, gaming, etc. Creating the menus together with your child using words, photos, and/or drawings not only supports collaboration but also empowers them with a sense of ownership and their own choices. Plus, filling the menus’ option boxes with images (instead of or in addition to words) will help them envision the future plan or imagine doing that activity.

Building and elaborating on the menus over time will provide kids with a preview of what they might do with their time and help with planning ahead—even when it’s just for the next hour. The menus also can be used when there is downtime to fill or as part of a day’s schedule to balance the types of activity. Having kids choose from the different menu items to plan out their day has powerful benefits. Not only does it bolster their investment in the plan and foster executive function and organized thinking skills, but it also supports the idea that while we need to make time for ourselves, we’re also connected to others.

Menus of Options Chart Example (click to download)

Menus of Options Chart Example

Tips for planning ahead: making a group plan

Making a plan together, or generating a group plan, is a helpful way to get everyone on the same page about what you’ll be doing. It’s also a great way to define clearly what the goal of the group is and give each family member an opportunity to advocate for their goals. Making the different roles or jobs that are part of that group plan explicit or concrete can also be helpful. With that discussion, each person knows how they are part of the bigger plan, and having an active role is a great way to stay engaged in the bigger plan. If the group plan is a trip to the grocery store, the goal might be to get ingredients for dinner. Each person may have a different job in terms of items to find. Some individual goals might include picking out dinner menu items or even just acting as DJ in the car. If the group plan is to take the dog for a walk around the lake (and check off daily exercise), there may be the job of dog walker, bird spotter, and water bottle carrier. Within the bigger group plan are opportunities to choose the route, different places to stop for a break, and whether getting in the lake is an option for anyone on the walk.

Although we’re suggesting these strategies to create structure and predictability during the summer break—they’re also useful all year long in supporting kids as they navigate disruption of routines, organizing their time and planning ahead, managing a balance of activities in their lives, and participating in collaborative group efforts.

You may be interested in these related articles

This summer, if travel is on the menu—whether your plans take you far from home or just out of it— check out Be a Social Detective on Vacation! by Janie Lai and Michelle Garcia Winner. This article provides ideas to support being a social observer wherever your travel takes you. A second article, Tips for Traveling with Individuals with Social Learning Differences and/or Challenges, offers travel tips, like planning for and including “own time” as part of the itinerary.

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