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BlogTrauma & PTSD

Supporting children with complex trauma histories during summer break: A guide for occupational therapists

🕑 3 minutes read
Posted June 13, 2024
By Daphne Boucher, MScOT, OT Reg. (AB), Doctoral student NYU OT
Reviewed by Unyte Clinical Team

With summer quickly approaching, many families are eagerly planning vacations, outdoor activities, and relaxed schedules. However, for children with complex trauma histories, the transition to summer can bring unexpected challenges. Changes in routine, separation from friends, and increased free time can lead to heightened stress and decreased play opportunities. Occupational therapists have a unique opportunity to support these children and their families, ensuring they enjoy a stable and fulfilling summer break.

Here are some evidence-based strategies to help children with complex trauma histories thrive during the summer months that can be easily incorporated into regular therapy sessions and taught to families to utilize at home during parent coaching and consults sessions:

1. Maintain a Routine

Consistency is key for children with trauma histories. A disruption in their routine can elevate stress levels. When routine changes are necessary, create a new, predictable schedule for the child. Utilizing visual schedules or calendars can provide the child with a sense of structure and security.

2. Promote Physical Activity

Incorporate rhythmic, repetitive sensory activities that support nervous system regulation (Perry, 2006). Encourage activities such as swimming, biking, swinging, dancing, or climbing, which can be both enjoyable and therapeutic for children.

3. Encourage Open-Ended Play

Open-ended play is essential for cognitive and emotional development. It stimulates the frontal lobe and fosters intellectual growth (Panksepp, 2007). This type of play also strengthens relationships, which is particularly beneficial for children with trauma histories (Greenspan & Wieder, 1998; van der Kolk, 2003).

4. Encourage Quality Family Time

Facilitate special time between children and their caregivers. This is crucial for developing a secure attachment and promoting co-regulation. Encourage activities that emphasize healthy preverbal, facial, vocal, and gestural communication, as these interactions are vital for healing and development (Booth, Lindaman, & Winstead, 2014).

5. Create Safe Spaces

Designate specific areas where children can retreat to when they feel overwhelmed. These safe spaces should be quiet and filled with comforting items such as soft cushions, blankets, or favorite toys. Having a designated safe space helps children regulate their emotions by providing them with a sense of security and control (Ribbe, 1996; Porges, 2011).

Practical Tips for Implementation

  • Visual Schedules: Create daily or weekly visual schedules to help children anticipate changes and feel more secure.
  • Sensory Activities: Introduce a variety of activities like yoga, swinging, or nature walks/rides that provide rhythmic and repetitive sensory input.
  • Play Therapy: Incorporate open-ended play sessions into your therapy plans, using toys and materials that encourage creativity and exploration.
  • Family Workshops: Offer workshops for caregivers to teach them strategies for engaging in therapeutic play and fostering secure attachments at home.
  • Design Safe Spaces at Home: Encourage families to create small, calming areas where children can go to decompress. These spaces can include sensory items like stress balls, fidget toys, or calming music.
  • Introduce Sensory Breaks: Incorporate scheduled sensory breaks into the child’s day to prevent overwhelm and help maintain regulation.

The role of an occupational therapist is crucial in providing the support and interventions these children and families need to thrive. By integrating these strategies into your practice, you can help children with complex trauma histories enjoy a more positive and stable summer.

Embrace these strategies to support the children in your care and ensure they have a summer filled with growth, stability, and joy.

Until next time,


Free download: Nervous System Regulating Activities for Children

Early-life experiences that include supportive multisensory input and attuned relationships are necessary and formative to brain development, as children learn to self-regulate through the experience of co-regulation with others.

Use these recommendations to help build regulatory capacity in children.

About the author Daphne Boucher

Daphne Boucher, MScOT, OT Reg. (AB), is a seasoned pediatric occupational therapist licensed in Alberta, Canada, boasting nearly a decade of dedicated service to children’s well-being. As the founder of Weevolve Occupational Therapy based in Calgary, AB, she spearheads initiatives aimed at enhancing the lives of young individuals through innovative and evidence-based therapeutic approaches. Currently pursuing her doctoral degree at NYU, Daphne is deeply committed to advancing her expertise in supporting children navigating complex trauma, underscoring her unwavering dedication to their holistic development and resilience. To learn more, you can visit weevolveot.com.

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