This week one of our Social Workers, Robyn White, offers advice for helping your child cope with changes to summer plans this year.
As we navigate the summer months, many families are wondering what to tell their children amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Both parents and children face the uncertainty of what they will do this summer. Some children look forward to attending camp, some play sports, and others stay with extended family members. What will this summer look like, and how can families prepare to cope with these changes? Here are some tips on how to maintain some normalcy and manage stress during this unprecedented time.
Stick to Routines and Schedules
During times of uncertainty, it is important to create structure in the household so children can feel a sense of control over their environment. Parents can make a daily schedule for their children so they know what to expect. Depending on the child’s age and developmental ability, families can work together to create a picture or word schedule. Parents can encourage children who feel upset about missing camp to write a list of their favorite camp activities and add those to their summer agenda.
Make Time for Movement and Exercise
If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it is that children need to move. During the stay-at-home order, many families have more time to relax and spend quality time together, but there are fewer opportunities to move around. With limited movement, children are not releasing as many feel-good chemicals, called endorphins, which can exacerbate symptoms of ADHD, depression, and anxiety. When creating your children’s schedule, make sure to include movement and activity breaks. Feel free to ask your kids to share 10 indoor and outdoor activities to engage in, including: taking nature walks, going on bike rides, creating obstacle courses, playing sports, doing yoga, creating a treasure hunt, building a fort, gardening, playing hopscotch, or completing family projects.
Monitor Screen Time
One of parents’ main concerns while their children are in quarantine is the amount of time spent in front of screens. Whether children are playing video games, watching television shows, or texting friends, technology seems to be playing a center role in their lives. In serious cases, this can lead to internet addiction, preventing the child from developing key social and attentional milestones. To deal with this issue, parents can monitor and set limits on the amount of time their kids spend on their devices. A good rule of thumb is to limit children between the ages of 2 to 5 to one hour of monitored screen time per day and to increase that slowly by age. Parents can replace screen time with more enriching activities, such as: board games, puzzles, singing, cooking, reading books, or journaling about this time in history.
Utilize Virtual Support
Of course, parents are not superhuman and do not always have control over their children’s technology use. During this time, many children are required to join Zoom meetings and complete schoolwork on their tablets or iPads. Some sports teams and other extracurricular activities only have the option to meet over screens due to social distancing recommendations. Many children are yearning for more social connection during this time and can greatly benefit from virtually connecting with friends and family. So, families should choose their screen time wisely, and can use it to deepen relationships and model the importance of connection.
As we know, children mimic their parents’ behaviors and will assuredly pick up on their attitudes and belief systems. Although this is a difficult time with many trials and tribulations, parents can model a positive attitude by highlighting the good things that can come out of this difficult experience. Children and parents can talk about gratitude and think of aspects of life they feel thankful for during this time. Instead of saying, “We have to stay at home this summer,” parents can say a more encouraging phrase, like, “We have the opportunity to spend quality time as a family this summer and create lasting memories together!” A small change in a child’s mindset can help increase their motivation and help them remember their summer in a positive way.
Acknowledge and Accept Feelings
While families can work on practicing positivity in the household, children will likely feel a range of positive and negative emotions throughout the summer months. From disappointment due to changes in fun summer plans to missing seeing their friends, children may feel sad, frustrated, or lonely. Parents can encourage children to express their feelings and practice acceptance. For younger children with limited emotional vocabulary, parents can instruct them to draw their feelings. Older children and adolescents can journal or talk about their feelings to express themselves. Furthermore, parents can set up a weekly family meeting for family members to share their feelings openly and honestly. Families can create a list of rules to respect one another and try to suspend judgment in a loving, open environment.
Get Help if Needed
If your child feels helpless, try to listen to their concerns and explain any new plans with the crisis in a developmentally appropriate manner. If parents notice that their children are feeling ongoing symptoms of depression, anxiety, irritability, have lost interest in their normal activities, or have difficulty concentrating, please reach out for help and ask to speak with a mental health professional. Remember that mental health is a real health issue, and early intervention is key. During this time, many therapists, including the professionals at North Shore Pediatric Therapy, offer both virtual telehealth visits and in-office sessions.
As the days and weeks pass by, families will soon find their “new normal.” Humans are very resilient and somehow find ways cope, even in the most stressful situations. So, resist the urge to be a perfect parent, reconnect with loved ones, take a lot of deep breaths, have some fun, and we will make it through together!
NSPT offers services in the Chicagoland Area. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help!Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!