Summer fun can be absolutely magical: snow cones, splash pads, swimming pools, road trips, popsicles, watermelon, and long sunny days. What isn’t to love—you know, besides sunburn, tantrums, forced togetherness, 100-degree days, and the WWE-style brawls that can break out between siblings for the offense of one breathing too hard or picking up someone else’s possession? This is not exclusive to adopted parents. Most kids do best with a predictable daily schedule.Kids who have been adopted from foster care may have an even greater need for predictable situations. Their brains can be rewired by trauma. A predictable schedule means there are no unexpected things to worry about.

For example, my oldest daughter cannot handle being told something is a surprise—cannot deal. She turns into a wriggling bundle of anxious nerves at the thought of not knowing what is coming. Which, if I’m totally honest, is a trait we share. I love a good surprise gift, but being told there is a surprise looming in the distance doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy.  Part of the problem is the fact my girl’s early childhood was so unpredictable. Her brain is constantly seeking control. She feels the safest when she knows what is going to happen next. If she doesn’t, or if the schedule gets changed, it can get bad quickly. 

She once came home from school in a terrible mood. She snarled and snapped at everyone, and was generally a prickly little porcupine up until bedtime. When she was finally ready to talk about it, she revealed that she’d had a substitute teacher and the substitute did things differently than her teacher normally did. That change was enough to derail my girl from doing any learning that day. This didn’t appear to be much of a problem because they had watched movies and had extra recess that day. Most kids would be happy. She was annoyed. 

I know my girl isn’t alone in this. Heck, most of our family is that way in some form or another. So what do you do with that? I like spontaneity. I like not having a strict plan every day in the summer. I like to sleep in, I like taking spontaneous trips to the lake. I like playdates with friends and picnic lunches and junk food for dinner every once in a while. Mostly, I like not being ruled by the small people in my house insisting we do the next thing on the schedule or the day will be wrong. I’m in charge of most of our summer days. I have the control, so I can do with it whatever I want and it doesn’t really bother me. 

However, for my kids who have been adopted,I’m basically a day-ruiner who does everything to spite, annoy, or anger them. So, I’ve had to become more predictable, which is more work for me on the front end, but it is less over the whole summer because it results in fewer arguments. The trick for me is being vague instead of precise with what goes on a schedule. The key is to make a schedule though, as loathsome as that can be.  Ours looks something like this 

Daily Schedule

  • Wake up between 7 – 9 am
  • Take dogs out
  • Feed dogs
  • Eat breakfast
  • Get dressed
  • Go for a bike ride with mom (mom runs, you bike)
  • Choose two  inside-the-house chores and one outside-the-house chore from the chore list to complete. (Must be different from  yesterday and different from other sisters. For example if you swept floors yesterday you cannot sweep floors today.)
  • Complete chores (Ask an adult to check to see if they are done correctly before moving on to other things)
  • One hour of reading
  • One hour of another activity (Legos, painting, sidewalk chalk, drawing, coloring, dress up, dolls, trampoline, writing, ask approval for anything else)
  • Take dogs out
  • Have a snack and drink of water
  • Play outside (bubbles, sidewalk chalk, climb the dome, swing, etc.)
  • Lunch time
  • Eat lunch
  • Clean up from lunch 
  • Take dogs out
  • Screen Time
  • Snack
  • Play outside while mom makes dinner
  • Dinner
  • Bedtime yoga
  • Showers/bath
  • Story
  • Bedtime

This is subject to change as is pretty much everything in my home. However, having a list of things to do like they do at school makes for much easier transitions. I learned the hard way not to over plan and put a time next to each item. If I was a minute late taking out the playdough, there were tears. Some of them were mine. 

Maybe you’re looking at that schedule and thinking it’s too rigid. I get it. It kind of is. But it works for us. I’d suggest having a schedule (don’t bother making it fancy if that’s not your jam. I went to town laminating last year to have my schedule virtually burned to ash after the first week of break so…be prepared to adapt.  If my kids were less rigid thinkers, I’d probably do something like this: 

  • Wake up
  • Breakfast
  • Get Dressed
  • Morning chores
  • Morning activities 
  • Snack
  • Outside time
  • Lunch
  • Screen time
  • Snack
  • Outside time
  • Clean up for dinner
  • Dinner
  • Evening activities
  • Shower
  • Bed

Even that feels a bit restricting, but there are fewer details to contend with. If you have a kiddo like mine that can’t handle surprises, a desk calendar taped to the wall with any special events written down on the appropriate dates can go a long way. Including small activities for them to look forward to like a trip to the ice cream shop can be stabilizing for a child who is looking for structure. 

Include activities such as lake day, picnic lunch, etc. randomly on days that you think it will suit.  Any planned family vacation or outing should be scheduled well in advance.

Let your child know the plan, but sometimes plans need to change. If it’s raining, you probably won’t be going swimming outside. Prepare them for the potential for that happening and have a backup plan that will soften the blow. (My kids will always happily substitute ice cream and a movie for a lake day if the weather is bad.) 

Sometimes things that are entirely out of our control happen. For instance, my spouse had a medical emergency which means he’s not allowed to drive for the time being. As the only driver in the house, I had to decide we aren’t doing things that will take us too far away. Our entire summer plans got uprooted before they were even started. Such is life. I’m thankful he’s okay and will take driving duty as long as I need to if it means he’s safe. But anyway, some of what I’m trying to teach my kids is that sometimes things happen we cannot control. It’s part of life. You can’t fix all the problems that come from adoption trauma with a schedule and a plan, but any little bit helps. Happy Summer!

Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.