PREPARING YOUR KIDS FOR AN IN-PERSON SUMMER
The weather is warming up, school is winding down, people are getting vaccinated, and others have a natural immunity to COVID-19. Parents and children are itching to be back in the swing of things and looking towards summer with excitement!
Traditional activities that were challenging during the height of the pandemic last year like summer camps, swim lessons, sports, and playdates, all feel possible again. While it’s tempting to dive right in, you and your child may also find that you have some surprising anxiety about doing so.
For many, it has been over a year now of limited social contact and remote learning. As you prepare for summer fun, keep in mind that your kids may need to adjust all over again. Set them up to thrive by taking time to practice social and emotional skills that may be a bit rusty.
According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social-emotional learning (SEL) leaders, social and emotional skills allow kids to manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals. SEL skills help individuals live healthier, happier, and more successful lives (Jones, Greenberg, & Crowley, 2015). In the short term, these skills will help smooth the transition back to in-person summer activities, limiting the tantrums, moodiness, and tears that often come with big changes.
So, here are six social emotional learning resources to use to set up your kids ready for in-person summer fun!
TALK IT OUT
Dedicate some time to talking with your kids about the “new-new normal” and how it won’t be just like the “old-new normal!”
TALK IT OUT Part I: Reflect on the last year together
Even though time has felt a little strange during much of the COVID-19 pandemic, remember that your child is a whole year older than they were at the start. Particularly at young ages, kids undergo an enormous amount of development and growth each year. Kids ready for preschool now were still in diapers at this time last year! Big kids are suddenly pre-teens! It’s imperative to recognize that the previous year, while different, has not been a loss. Some studies are emerging that indicate that kids, in general, have improved their ability to maintain composure, keep an open mind, and get along with others during the course of the pandemic (Walton & Murano, 2020). Talk to your child and let them know that you recognize the changes and good growth they have undergone this year.
That all said, looking back at how your child handled the beginning of the pandemic can give you some clues on how they might approach the upcoming transitions to in-person activities:
Reflect on this with your child. Remind them of those feelings and how they eventually passed and changed over time.
TALK IT OUT PART II: Discuss upcoming plans
Discussing your upcoming summer plans before they happen has two benefits: it gives kids the time to prepare mentally and builds some healthy anticipation.
Talking about something that is about to happen is a long-established strategy that your children’s classroom teachers use to ease transitions (Jiang & Jones, 2016). Letting your kids know a few weeks in advance that they’re going to be starting swimming lessons, or going to horse camp, will allow them to think about what that may look or feel like and how their daily lives will change. Even kids who have participated in these activities in previous years will benefit from processing possible upcoming changes.
Some questions you may want to ask your child include:
Make sure that you are not the one doing all of the talking! Your child has a rich internal life; show them know you would like to hear about their feelings, thoughts, and concerns by simply listening.
Younger children may struggle to find the words for their big feelings; reading books together about characters with similar feelings can help them verbalize and make their experiences more concrete. Older kids may just be reluctant to share. Ask open-ended questions and provide low-pressure opportunities to chat, such as a car ride to the store or a walk around the block. Just the act of providing your undivided attention is often as important to your child’s mental health as the actual activity you’re participating in while you do (Roeters & van Houdt, 2019).
PROVIDE CHOICE AND CONTROL
Providing children with choices – even small choices – increases cooperation and reduces anxiety by allowing them to feel more in control of a situation. Choices also help kids practice self-management skills that will benefit them as they grow (Mincemoyer, 2016). Over the last year, many of our options have been limited, and kids’ choices even more so. Some simple ways to engage kids in the decision-making process as they prepare for summer activities include letting them:
ROLEPLAY AND PRACTICE
While talking about changes to come is valuable for kids, roleplaying conversations and situations provide concrete tools and mental scripts that they can rely on in upcoming situations. Active, hands-on practice is an integral part of cognitive development (McLeod, 2018). That said, roleplaying does not need to be a serious lesson in method acting – simply pretend
with your kids! The following scenarios are examples of roleplays that could help your child prepare for summer camp. Adjust them for your particular situation and activities.
With younger kids:
For tweens and teens:
ESTABLISH YOUR FAMILY’S COVID GUIDELINES
Over the last year, each family’s comfort level with COVID-19 risk has been different. In many cases, those comfort levels are in flux again as we all learn to exist in a world where some families are fully vaccinated while others are not. It’s important to be careful how you communicate these changes with your child. Many people are talking about “going back to normal,” but normal may not be the same as it used to be. Be explicit with your children about your family’s guidelines and the behaviors you would like to see from them that will continue to keep your family safe. Knowing exactly what is expected of them will help to ease anxiety for many kids.
As children prepare to head off for summer activities be sure to discuss with them your family’s expectations about:
MONITOR YOUR CHILD’S MENTAL HEALTH
Change can trigger strong emotional reactions in children. Many of these can be eased with the strategies above and will pass, but watch out for signs of more significant, long-lasting mental health issues such as:
Visit Mental Health America’s page on Youth Mental Health for a more comprehensive list.
If you have concerns about your child’s mental well-being, don’t hesitate to reach out to their doctor or a local/virtual mental health provider. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has resources and a Psychiatrist Finder tool if you are not sure where to start.
ADDITIONAL PARENT RESOURCES
As you prepare for summer, you might find some of the following support resources helpful to look at with your child:
Juggling all of the moving parts needed to get your kids ready for in-person summer fun can be overwhelming to do alone. Please consider joining my Summer 2021 Mindful-IshTM Parenting Cohort starting June 24, 2021. It is an education series that includes six online parenting classes and a private WhatsApp group for ongoing coaching, a like-minded community, and parents’ emotional well-being support. Applications are being accepted now.
CDC. (2021).COVID-19 Parental Resources Kit. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/parental-resource-kit/index.html
CDC. (2021). Guidance for operating youth and summer campus during COVID-19. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/summer-camps.html
Jiang, H.S., & Jones, S. (2016). Practical Strategies for Minimizing Challenging Behaviors in the Preschool Classroom. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 44(3), 12–19.
Jones, D.E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M. (2015). Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness. American Journal of Public Health, 105(11), 2283–90. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630
McLeod, S. (2018). Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development: background and key concepts of Piaget’s theory. Simply Psychology. Retrieved from: https://www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html
Mincemoyer, C. (2016). Giving Children Choices. Better Kid Care, PennState Extension. Retrieved from: https://extension.psu.edu/programs/betterkidcare/early-care/tip-pages/all/giving-children-choices.
Roeters, A. & van Houdt, K. (2019). Parent-Child Activities, Paid Work Interference, and Child Mental Health. Family Relations, 68(2), 232–45. https://doi.org/10.1111/fare.12355
What is Social Emotional Learning? (n.d.). Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Retrieved from https://casel.org/
Walton, Kate E., and Dana Murano. Students Have Shown Significant Social and Emotional Skill Development during COVID-19. ACT Research & Policy. Data Byte. ACT, Inc. ACT, Inc, 2020. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?q=covid+return+to+school+social+emotional&id=ED610230.
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