Summertime has traditionally provided children with the opportunity to wind down and take a break from the structure and every day hustle and bustle of the rigors of the academic school year. This academic school year’s experiences, however, have been unlike others that have come before, and this summer appears to be following in its shoes. This past spring, the coronavirus pandemic led to the closure of the vast majority of schools through the end of the academic year and students have been required to finish out their curriculum online. Now as we look to the summer, we all wonder what we are going to do in this new normal. In the past, many children and families have relied on camps, playdates, and community parks and recreation to occupy the long summer days and nights. However, this year, many camps are either closed or moving to a virtual format, playdates are discouraged, and many community parks and recreation are closed or limited in offerings to protect our communities from spreading the virus.
Just under three months into this new way of life, and many families are feeling its effects in various ways. Some of our children from this “lockdown generation” are having a difficult time finding ways to channel their energy. Many parents are becoming more and more concerned about the potential negative effects from their children’s increased levels of screen time. Parents report their children demonstrating behavioral issues, mood swings, low energy levels, boredom, and the list goes on and on… Therefore, what can we do to look at the glass half-full and fully prepare ourselves to have an engaging, productive, and meaningful summer with our children at home this year?
1) Identify summer goals: What have been the overarching goals of previous summers for your children? Has summer given your children the opportunity to try new activities? Learn new skills? Maintain and practice skills taught throughout the school year in a real life format? Identifying children’s individualized summer goals will assist in providing the direction necessary to help create focus and motivation. Involve your children in the goal setting process. Ask your children to identify two goals they would like to work on this summer: 1) Something they would like to get better at; and 2) Something new they would like to try. Having your children be part of the summer planning process helps with motivation, accountability, and the development of agency though the modeling and practice of executive function, problem solving, and self-advocacy skills in a real life format.
2) Assess your environment: Take a step back and look at what you are working with. Do your children need access to more structure, more outdoor time, frequent break opportunities? Are you planning summer camp at home in the suburbs with a yard or in an apartment in the city? Whatever your resources, take inventory and plan ahead. Make sure you have on hand and ahead of time any resources that you may need to help your children work on their individualized goals on a daily basis. This may come in the form of ordering hands-on materials for your home, signing up for a structured online enrichment class or program, or (more likely than not) a combination of the two. Again, involve your children in the assessment process. What would they specifically like to have on hand to keep themselves busy during the day? Model and practice with them how to access materials (i.e., ordering materials online, organizing a materials swap with friends, placing orders over the phone, etc.)
3) Structure your days (with room for flexibility): Set clear guidelines and expectations with your children about how summer days will be structured. Between parents’ working from home schedules and the fact that summer is a little bit more loose in terms of structure, it will still provide children with an understood level of prediction, boundaries, and expectations. Without some form of structure, some children may naturally gravitate towards apathy and sedentary behavior. Structure can get them going in the morning and help keep them on track through the day.
4) Cut yourself some slack: As parents, we tend to be overly critical and hard on ourselves. Take a deep breath, and let that go. This is a difficult time for all of us, and once we recognize and accept that we are all doing our best, it can take the pressure off feeling like we aren’t giving our children the experience we wish for them. Understand that we will all need to relax our parenting skills in some capacity now and through the summer. When doing so, we are not demonstrating “bad” parenting skills, but rather modeling for our children the necessity of flexibility during extraordinary times. Flexibility is an essential skill for success; and being transparent about what flexibility is and how you (and they) need to demonstrate it will serve them when they are adults down the road.