We are not talking about the hot sun. Here’s how to set the temperature for family emotions during a non-traditional summer.
Since we were children ourselves, summer has been synonymous with freedom, loose routines and relaxation. These are pool parties, barbecues and days at the beach. These are basketball and art camps and road trips to visit cousins and grandparents.
But, this summer, of course, everything is different. Because of the pandemic, you work from home while watching your kids, that is, re-reading the same email for 20 minutes while trying to braid Barbie’s hair.
Everyone is agitated to be locked up since March. When you venture outside, you worry about the safety of your children. And if your child’s camp or daycare is up and running, you could get used to all kinds of new rules and restrictions.
In short, summer 2020 is downright depressing – and frustrating, as you try not to lose it. But while this summer is different, it can still be fun (for you too!) here’s how.
Right now, your home is a tornado (monsoon!) Of emotions: you and your children feel irritable, sad and deeply disappointed. That wonderful summer you have dreamed of or planned does not exist. On top of that, your kids are bored and confused and their friends are bored.
Instead of dismissing these completely understandable feelings (and lost opportunities), name them and help your kids identify their emotions as well, says Bri DeRosa, mother of two boys and content manager for The Family Dinner Project, an initiative Massachusetts General Hospital nonprofit. Academy of Psychiatry. And give yourself and your children an extra grace, she said.
In times of stress, temper tantrums tend to increase, notes Janine Halloran, LMHC, therapist and author of the bestselling “Coping Skills for Kids Workbook”. Even if it is difficult, now is not the time to be a “thermometer, fluctuating with your children’s moods,” she says. Instead, “be the thermostat and set the tone in your home”.
So when you start to feel upset, take several deep breaths or take a walk. Tell your kids that you need a moment and put on some calming music, repeat a calming mantra, or do your favorite yoga pose.
Halloran tells his children that all of their feelings are OK – what is not is hurting yourself, hurting others or hurting property. Instead, she encourages finding healthy ways to express emotions, like drawing about them or tapping their feet.
Structure gives children stability and predictability, just what they need when their world has turned upside down. Although every family’s schedule is different, use small activities to anchor the day, says Natasha Daniels, LCSW, child therapist, mother of three and author of the book “Social Skills Activities for Kids”.
For example, each morning write the plan for the day on a whiteboard. In the afternoon, play outside. At night, do a puzzle or play a board game. Or have one family activity per day.
Either way, Daniels stresses the importance of brainstorming ideas for activities with your kids to make sure everyone’s preferences are taken into account (which also includes your opinions!).
With everyone at home, the laundry and dishes have quadrupled, and there is never (never!) Enough to eat. Think about what you can delegate to your kids, your spouse, or a professional – or remove it from your list altogether.
For example, Halloran suggests grabbing take-out every week from local restaurants. “Plus, if you go looking for it, you can take a few minutes by car on your own!
Rituals stabilize, especially when life is so precarious. They also give your family something fun to look forward to. Ask your children what daily or weekly rituals they would like to do this summer.
The Family Dinner Project offers family breakfasts and picnics at home, which can be special without requiring a lot of time or energy. For example, start your day with a dance party where everyone cooks toast with peanut butter, banana slices and granola.
At dinner time, grab some veggie wraps on the back porch and play a memory game – closing your eyes and trying to remember the details of your surroundings – or use these conversation starters: If you were going upstairs. time 100 or 200 years and could not contribute three things, what would you bring? You have a sailboat big enough to go around the world. Where will you go? (There are more recipe suggestions and conversation starters in their book, “Eat, laugh, talk!”)
While television is generally viewed as a connection killer, watching something together can actually be a great source of time together. Halloran suggests chatting about a show while you watch it or throughout the day.
If you’ve got the energy, says DeRosa, cook a meal and play a game that matches your movie’s theme. Here are some great ideas around family history. And if you don’t have the energy, rest assured: “No one’s children will be ruined for life because they had an ice-cold appetizer in front of a Netflix during a pandemic,” DeRosa adds.
According to Halloran, this could range from creating a garden to trying out another meal or building Legos. “You may find a new talent or decide it’s something you never want to try again! Regardless of what you do, this is an opportunity to refresh quality time for everyone.
While your travel plans are likely stalled, it may be possible to safely explore new activities and places nearby, such as hiking trails and ponds, says Halloran. Look for other safe outdoor adventures, too, like farms with pickable fruits and vegetables, she says.
Since regulations and concerns vary widely and change rapidly in today’s safer home climate, be sure to consider what’s doable and open up where you live before you go.
To strengthen your bond with older children, have them pick a book, podcast, or movie to enjoy together – or all of the above, says Halloran. “For example, if your teenager is a huge Harry Potter fan, you can read the books, listen to Harry Potter-related podcasts and watch movies, and talk about the similarities, the differences, what you liked, what can lead to deeper dives of conversations around different Harry Potter-related topics.
It never fails – as soon as your laptop comes out, your kids need you. If your kids are older, Daniels suggests putting a colored sign on your office door: green means “I’m free”; yellow means “I’m busy but you can come in”; and red is “I’m in a meeting”.
If your kids are younger, have them play independently using a visual timer to divide the day into blocks, says Halloran. “Start with small slices of time, then [add] 5 minutes to help increase their tolerance to longer stretches… ”
It’s also helpful to have special toys and activities that only come out when your laptop does, Halloran adds.
Because children usually don’t realize they’re listless, switching to another activity can reduce irritability and difficult behaviors, Daniels explains. She recommends putting together a craft, going out, taking a bath, or watching a movie.
This summer, try not to feel the “pressure to be the funniest, most magical parent in the world trying to make up for what your kids are missing,” says DeRosa, which will further strain your already raw nerves!
Remember that children are resilient. And you can take advantage of this unstellar summer to teach them that life doesn’t always go well. But you got to each other – and TV and Fruit Loops.
And while that may not seem like much, it shows your kids how to ride the tide of ever-changing circumstances and find the right one in tough times. And, luckily, there is a lot of good.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS, is a freelance writer and associate writer at PsychCentral.com. She has been writing about mental health, psychology, body image, and self-care for over a decade. She lives in Florida with her husband and their daughter. You can find out more at www.margaritatartakovsky.com.