Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

How to Salvage Your Summer

"My daughter was looking forward to summer camp but of course it is not going to open. My son is bouncing off the walls of our apartment. I am going crazy in lockdown. I know things are supposed to be opening up more soon but the pool will be closed and there are no classes for children anywhere.  It was hard enough when they had the structure of schoolwork. How will we make it through the summer?!"

If you live in the US, schools are still closed. Most parents improvised to make it through the school year, relying heavily on screens. Summer is just about here, but summer camps are closed. The idea of spending June, July and August cooped up inside with children is enough to send anyone around the bend.

Given that physical distancing is still so dramatically impacting daily life, how can you salvage your summer?

(If you live outside the US, your schools may well be re-opening! You can skip this article, and enjoy the rest of this newsletter. And here's an article for you about When Your Child is Worried About School Re-Opening.)

1. Take any vacation time you have, gradually.

If you're working from home while you have kids home, you already know that's an impossible situation. So plan on taking any vacation time you have coming to you as soon as you can. But don't take it all at once. Spread it out so you can work fewer hours each week and really make those vacation days count. For instance, if you have two parents at home and each one takes one day a week as a vacation day, then you only have three days a week when you're both working and have to rely heavily on screens as a babysitter. Four days a week, your kids have one or two parents with them full time, giving them a long weekend of family time.

2. Have a brainstorming session with your family. Make two lists:

  • Family Fun

    Activities for those long weekends, even with physical distancing, that will bring your family closer and be fulfilling for everyone. Depending on the age of your child, be sure to include some more adventurous ideas like family camping trips, creating a water park in your backyard, or working together to make a video about your family.

  • Daily Activities
  • What needs to be done daily for to keep your family in good shape, physically and emotionally? Think meal prep, clean-up, Outside time, Special Time, Roughhousing, Family Dance Parties, Reading, Piano practice, etc. Create a daily schedule that includes these activities, and stick to it. Research shows that having daily structure makes family life work better and keeps everyone healthier emotionally. Let your kids make themselves a chart with photos of them doing these activities, so they can check them off before they get screen time.

3. Create fun family adventures using three day weekends.

If you can, get away from home, so you can escape the mess and the to-do list. For instance, get out of your home and into nature for a mini-camping trip. Being in nature is calming for the nervous system, and there's nothing like a campfire for family connection.

The more time children are outside, the healthier and happier they are. It may take kids half an hour to figure out what to do with themselves, but once they do, they'll find the outdoors endlessly interesting. They won't get bored, they won't fight with each other, and they'll sleep better that night. Being outdoors gives you the perfect opportunity to experiment safely with a more "free-range" approach, which fosters independence and resilience in children. Every indicator of physical and mental health will improve for every hour your child spends outside.

If it's not possible to leave your home, then plan a staycation that's different from your regular life. For instance, maybe you'll pitch a tent in your living room, make homemade ice cream, play cards and charades, roast marshmallows on your gas stove, and star-gaze from your apartment building roof. But be sure to ditch screens for the weekend. This is a perfect opportunity to see how rich life can be without them.

Even if you can't leave for a weekend, definitely plan on day trips away from home, whether to the sea shore, a local lake, or a special hike. 

4. Put some work into helping your child learn to pursue their passions, aka play or learn independently.

If you're working at home and need to keep your child occupied, don't assume that you have to use screens nonstop. It's possible to help children learn to play independently, even if they aren't used to it -- and it's good for them! For tips, here's a whole article on how to do this: Supporting Your Child To Play Independently

If your child is old enough to pursue an independent learning project, why not brainstorm with them to come up with an idea they'd like to pursue? See this article for ideas: Suddenly We're All Homeschoolers! What? You Weren't Trained For This?

5. Focus on what's most important.

This is a hard time. By which I mean that every parent I know is overwhelmed, struggling to balance work while they show up for their kids. Lower your expectations and focus on what matters. Your children don't need a vacation to Disneyworld. They don't even need a trip to the seashore. They just need as much time as they can get outside. Wondering how to keep kids entertained without playgrounds? See my Pinterest board for simple, fun ideas to use in your backyard or at the park. This is something you can manage, and it's enough.

And of course, more than anything, what your child needs is a parent who's calm and emotionally generous. What matters most is YOU. That means that your most important job is to keep yourself centered, so you can stay patient with your child. What do you need to do every day to replenish yourself? That should be at the top of your list.

Then, connect with your child. This does not have to be a big activity and it never has to cost money. Remember, what matters is always how things FEEL, not how things LOOK. Your child doesn't need a Martha Stewart outing; just a loving connection with you. Whether it's running through the sprinkler together on a hot afternoon or counting the stars on a blanket in the backyard before bedtime, what your child will remember from this summer is how you made them feel.

Want to salvage this summer? Do at least one thing every day to connect and have fun with your child. 

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