Surviving The Summer With Intense Children

Summer Strategies for Adopted Children and Teens with Behavioral Issues
You may still count the days until school starts again, but if your adopted child or teen is especially challenging, consider these tips for managing confrontations and meltdowns more effectively. There’s a wealth of material out there designed to keep you and yours on an even keel this summer, so take advantage and learn some new tricks in resolving tense situations with your “intense” adopted or foster care child.

Summer is here, school is out, and many busy parents of adopted and foster care children now have large blocks of unstructured time to fill in order to keep them entertained and occupied. Additional challenges for many of these parents are behavioral issues among adopted and foster care children and teens that may have been on the back burner during the school year.

That doesn’t mean the next two-and-a-half months have to be one long and arduous struggle. With a little preparation and ingenuity, you can short-circuit those heat-induced meltdowns and maximize your chances of creating positive summer memories for all to enjoy when the dreary winter months come around again. Here are some tools and tips for you to consider when the going gets rough.


  • 1. Manageable chunks.
    Day by day, hour by hour. Making a plan and knowing what’s coming up on the horizon is an effective way to eliminate anxiety and restlessness for all of us, let alone adopted and foster care children and teens. Write it down and make sure to get your children’s input so that they are invested in their schedule and can take some ownership of their daily activities. Planning is the number one step in this incredibly helpful checklist for surviving summer with “intense” children. For those inevitable moments when the system breaks down and you need to enforce some rules, take a crash course in discipline vs. punishment for foster parents here. If further studies are needed, go back to school with this in-depth resource.

  • 2. Camp

    Obviously, this is a broad category that encompasses entire web pages and shelving units in bookstores and libraries. It’s also a great summer activity for your back yard, but for the purposes of this list, “camp” means something more than learning how to make a fire with a bunch of kids your children have never met, and who’ve never gone through what your children have endured.

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    Consider this story about Camp to Belong, a 6-day, 5-night camp that reunites siblings who live in separate out-of-home placements. It started out in the Las Vegas area in 1995, and has since grown to include locations in Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Orange County California, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, and Australia.

    Camps that are specifically designed for adopted children with a particular cultural focus are listed here , and for those of you in Florida, a comprehensive list from the Foundation for Foster Children is offered here.

  • 3. Live in the Present
    It will probably require some practice leaving the past where it belongs…in the past. Arguments or flat-out fights you’ve had in recent days or weeks with your foster care teenager are fresh in your mind whenever a tense situation flares up again. That’s when
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    it’s your chance to clear the slate and see your child with new eyes. When the trigger event occurs, or when they enter the room with a dark cloud over their head, take advantage of this situation by changing your reaction to it. Here is some helpful advice on how to interact with an adoptive or foster care child in a more productive, “present-focused” way.
  • 4. What’s My Motivation?

    Take a holistic approach to behavior problems with your adopted or foster care child. This means asking yourself, “What’s motivating him or her?” Perhaps they’ve only had junk food since breakfast. Maybe they’re nervous about school coming up. Diffuse an argument by asking a few basic questions to get at the real issue. When your car engine emits a metallic shriek every time you accelerate up a hill, do you pull over, open the hood, and berate it for not behaving like other normal engines? Hopefully not—you take it to the shop for a trained mechanic to get at the root causes. Not to compare your precious one to a clattering 80s-era hatchback, but the principle still applies.

    There’s a common term used in corporate quality departments across the world called the “5 Why’s.” Whenever a problem presents itself, ask “why” five times. For example: Your teenaged foster child is angry. Why? Because you are nagging again about mowing the lawn. Why? Because you want him or her to learn the value of work or to earn their allowance. Why? Because all they’ve done lately is lay about and play video games, and all you’ve done is badger them about getting outside. Why? Because they’ve been avoiding work and you’ve been avoiding confrontation. Why? Because they’re anxious about being unprepared for the upcoming school year, and you’ve been unaware of their true worries. Possible solution: Break out the flash cards and locate some workbooks for their grade level and get them to put in a little bit of time each day to mentally prepare for school, but more importantly, to reduce their stress. Live in the present, get to the root cause whenever possible.

  • 5. What’s My Motivation Part II?
    OK, this is the one about acting. Not acting out, but let’s take that phrase as an indication of the possibility that acting is a remedy for acting out . It’s not such a far-fetched idea that persuading an “intense” adopted or foster care child to step outside of themselves and inhabit different personas may channel those negative energies
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    into something magical—investigate your local community college’s website and look for a “community education” link. There’s usually something in the theater arts on offer, and if your child or teen is shy or has stage fright, there is also a need for set designers and builders, costumes, makeup, lighting crew, ushers, and ticket sales / marketing. If theater’s not the ticket, have your child look through community education catalogs to see what sparks their curiosity—it might give you valuable insights into your adopted child’s interests and skills.
  • 6. Outdoor Movie Night
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    This is a great opportunity to help your adopted and foster care children maintain the friendships they developed during school, and to invite neighborhood kids over as well. If you have a teenager who is technologically savvy, assign them the task of rigging up a DVD player and digital projector. For children who are more into arts and crafts or do-it-yourself projects, have them design a screen and send them to Home Depot with a budget. Finally, set up some beanbags and folding chairs, pop some corn, and keep your eye on the weather forecast! Click here for an excellent overview on creating your personal outdoor movie theater.
  • 7. Minor League Baseball
    Our national pastime is back in full swing, but for those of you who don’t live near a major league park or who balk at the increasing ticket prices, chances are good that there’s a farm team near you . Minor league parks are not nearly as overwhelming as a crowded major league venue, and since they are smaller, it’s much easier to step outside for a game of catch
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    with a bored child, or to find a spot for hotdogs and pretzels. It’s also easier on the wallet. For an average family of four, major league ticket prices plus concessions can easily cost you well over $150, and if you are in a top-tier market like New York, Boston, or L.A., expect to pay over $300. Minor league tickets, food, and beverage are a fraction of the price, and they boast an equally dedicated fan base. Check out for more details.