Warm Up to Keep Cool

Tips to support yourself and your children for success

Many times, parents get worn down when trying to implement something new or stay with something that isn’t a good fit simply because it is "easier." Everyone and every situation is unique, to say the least. Don’t despair.

Please note, the information in this post is not a replacement for personal medical advice.
By Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT

Parents and caregivers who are trying to create a consistent schedule for their kids often say, “It doesn’t work.” Caregivers are exhausted. I get it. Many times, parents get worn down when trying to implement something new or stay with something that isn’t a good fit simply because it is “easier.” Everyone and every situation is unique, to say the least. Don’t despair though…here are a few tips of support to set yourself and your children up for success.

Start with this simple sequence: Warm up, challenge, and cool down. This can be repeated a number of times throughout the day. I like using it for for morning, afternoon, and evening. Breaking up the day and focusing on one step at time can make all the difference. You CAN do this.

Warm Up

Much like a workout, start your kid’s schedule with a “warm up” of routine things done on a daily basis. They may feel like a challenge at times, but you and children both know they need to be done. Things like hygiene tasks, getting dressed, and eating are all great warm ups. Other options are small chores and quiet or independent types of activities. These can be a saving grace for transition times or to accommodate for other family members.

Warm up’s occur all throughout the day and can include children helping set or clear the table at meal times, bath time, or cuddling to read a book at bedtime. For example, A warm up could be to allow your children to have limited screen time so you can get ready for the day.


These are the times of the day that may be more frustrating or difficult for children. Typically, if you are asking yourself, “Am I ready for this?” it’s probably a challenge task. This can be time spent having child work on social skills such as sharing or playing a game with others. Challenge activities like these help kids learn to accept limits — including being told “no.”

Challenge tasks might include educational or learning focused activities like writing or reading. Completing more complex tasks or household responsibilities are other challenges. These are things that children may have to follow a sequence or several steps to complete. Anything that causes kids to exercise their frustration tolerance — or behaviors that show a lack there of.

Sandwiching the more challenging times in the middle of the morning, afternoon, and evening segments of the day will make your life much easier. Avoid times when kids are more likely to have tantrums or meltdowns because they are tired or hungry. Putting these challenges “in the middle” can also help motivate your kids to look look forward to cool down activities that provide more freedom and relaxation. It’s always nice to have one extra tool in your pocket that you can pull out and use.

Make it fun

With challenging activities parents can get creative to make it more fun or rewarding for kids. Try working on writing or reading skills in less traditional ways like using sidewalk chalk, magnets, or a whiteboard.  Create a scrapbook or write and illustrate you own story. You could ask kids to write sentences in different orders or even backwards. Or type up sentences for a story and make it a puzzle for your child, challenging them to put in the correct order.

Sometimes adding things your child likes to do like using scissors or a glue stick can be just the trick to getting kiddos on board. Other ideas include timing them to see how fast or slow they can do things. Use humor and have fun — you can have them read in different voices like a whisper voice, giant voice, or singing.

Problem solve the tough challenges

If your kiddo still isn’t receptive and you continue to have behaviors — don’t get discouraged. Instead, try to get more information about what is getting in the way. Together you can collaborate, brainstorm, and problem solve. These skills are a big part of what you are trying to develop in your child anyway. And remember, you are not alone, just take a look at the Twitterverse of parental woes.

Sometimes the issue is a quick fix. It’s amazing how much of the time something as simple as getting to pick the book or writing tool becomes a power struggle. When children feel they don’t have a choice in anything, they will often make the only choice they feel they have… As a parent choose your battles. You have to be sure it is worth the effort, you will be able to remain consistent AND keep your cool.

Also, don’t forget you can use cool down as a motivational tool. This may be a reminder of getting to play at the park or outside, screen time, or even a special fun event like going to the pool, playing with bubbles, or having a play date. Remember, it is important to mean what you say as a parent — so tread carefully. Don’t use privileges as a threat of something to be taken away. Rather, they are a reminder of things to work towards or look forward to.

Cool Down

The “cool down” is often the most looked forward to part of the day. I like the sequencing of these two parts: challenge and cool down. It promotes the message that with responsibility you can have increased freedom and fun. Activities that are easy for your child to get involved in are good things to reserve for “cool down.” These activities can be active or relaxing.

By the same token, they may also be the activities its difficult to get your kiddos to stop. For that reason, planning them before a natural transition of the day like a meal time can be helpful.

Additionally, you can use prompting tools and invitations for children to be helpers. You are giving your kids an opportunity to feel in charge or have increased control in a positive way. At the same time, they are learning to build independence and mastery. You could allow your child to be “in charge” of serving a side dish for mealtime. Or maybe event let them plan or help prepare parts of the meal.

You can also use similar strategies from challenge time to capitalize on desire for mastery by creating a fun challenge, using a distraction, or through engagement and humor. Whatever the choice, I encourage you to try these strategies with your family. With a little effort, you can keep everyone cool this summer.

Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT
Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT
Jessica Pladsen is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a registered play therapist.
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Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT
Jessica Pladsen, MA, LMFT, RPT
Jessica Pladsen is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a registered play therapist.

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