When a child has problems with self-regulation, they can find so-called ‘free’ time stressful. They probably have difficulty planning.
Organizing themselves and figuring out what activities to do is hard if not impossible. This will increase their anxiety and, as they feel more stressed, their ability to plan and organize gets worse.
What can you do to help?
First, help your child calm down. Use some of the suggestions from our posting.
Then narrow their options. Choose two or three activities your child might enjoy. It’s best to choose some they can do on their own. There are lots of activities online. I really like shoebox tasks and file folder activities because they’re well-organized and, just by looking, your child will know what to do. Search “shoebox task ideas” for lots of suggestions. Many excellent file folder ideas organized by grade level can be found here.
Show your child the options. Either use printed words or pictures plus printed words – visual information is easier to remember and deal with, especially when they’re stressed. Let your child choose which one to do first.
Remember, you can include making shoebox or folder tasks as one of the activities you choose with your child.
Put time limits on each activity. Even though your child really enjoys an activity, you don’t want them to become so immersed in it that it’s all they focus on. Agree with your child how long they should do an activity. Set a timer and stick with the agreed time – your child can always do the activity again later.
Lay out the two or three activities so your child can finish one and more on to the next. The more organized you care the easier will be the switch from one activity to the next.
Keep in mind that free time can be anxiety-inducing in children with self-regulation problems. It means something very different for them.