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Psychological Wellness for Families – Summer 2021

June 24, 2021

Remember when you were a kid, that last week of school? The weather was beautiful, the classrooms were starting to be deconstructed, all of the year’s artwork being taken down and being returned to students as keepsakes (much of my own artwork did not survive the trip from the school to my home, as I was not particularly proud of my comically limited artistic talent; instead, my art became some of the first to hit the trash).  Field trips, end-of-year celebrations, opening of time capsules that we had hidden in the drop ceiling back in September.  Lots of fun and then…the last bell rang, we bolted out into the sunny afternoon, often a race between students in teachers to see who could get out sooner (students ALWAYS won!). I have since learned that teachers would typically be at the school hours after the kids left and would often return for the following days to start planning for the following year – magical beings, these teachers!).

For kids, between that last bell in June to the next one in September, we were free.  A whole summer just laying ahead, no homework, reading just for pleasure, playing with friends, wandering about the community, playing pick-up baseball and overall, just experiencing some pretty idyllic times.  

Last year was different, though.  With COVID restrictions in place since March, students did not have this celebratory experience.  They simply kind of drifted into the summer.  As we start to cautiously emerge from the restrictions over the past year, the Summer of 2021 looks to be quite different from Summer 2020.  As with any change, there is excitement and enthusiasm, but also concern and anxiety.  

This summer, let’s focus on being safe and respectful of one another, since not everyone is at the same level of comfort as restrictions are lifted and social opportunities arise.

  1. Socialize.  Kids in particular have had limited opportunities to socialize.  They will likely be wanting to spend a LOT of time with friends – which may be a bit of a shock after being with family almost closely over the past year.  Allow them their freedom to re-engage in their social worlds – in doing so, you are letting them know that social developmental is as important as academic development
  1. Let them play.  Regardless of age, play is an essential component of healthy development for kids of all ages (and adults too!).  Let them safely explore their community with you or peers with whom you feel comfortable
  1. Exercise.  Not all sports will be running this summer, but kids need time for unstructured play and games.  Let them be bored – they will create new fun social physical activities, and encourage them to transition in the daytime away from screens.  Screens are fine for evenings, but their use should be limited through the day.  Discuss – really discuss  fair boundaries and reasonable expectations.  Screens themselves are not unhealthy and remain a great way for kids to connect.
  1. Maintain some structure.  With no school, finding and maintaining a structure and routine can be challenging.  Try to establish “zones” of routine (not tied to specific times;  rather focus on blocks of time, allow for flexibility, and discuss changes as much as possible ahead of time)
  1. Adolescents in particular may really be craving time away from family.   This is natural and to be expected.  Stay connected via texting, but allow them some freedom.  It’s easier and more reasonable to offer some degree of freedom to develop and enhance trust and then, if necessary, implement restrictions than starting with restrictions.  Starting with trust allows for stronger relationships and a stronger desire to keep the trust.  A balance between earning privileges and trust and presuming trust is a challenge and requires a lot of non-judgemental communication.
  1. Sleep can be a challenge in the summer.  With brighter evenings and warmer temperatures, less structure and more freedom, most families struggle with maintaining healthy sleep patterns over the summer months.  Be flexible with sleep locations if necessary (i.e. sleeping in the basement when it’s too hot elsewhere in the home), but try to maintain some sense of routine around bedtime and wake-up time.
  1. Find inexpensive day trips where possible.  Everyone has been generally cooped up for over a year.  There is a lot to explore in our local communities, a lot of which is quite inexpensive.  If you have time off and a vehicle, plan a day trip to a place you’ve not been before.  If you rely on transit, do some urban exploring.  Pokémon Go is making a comeback, and geocaching is another fun family activity.  A backpack with a lunch may be all you need.
  1. Screentime.  Kids (and adults!) have become very attached to their devices over the past year, in part because for many, it’s been their only way of connecting socially.  They need to continue to have access to their devices, and though it may drive parents a bit crazy!  Nothing wrong with some limits, though – perhaps tech-free afternoons?
  1. Learning loss.  Many parents and educators are worried about learning loss that has occurred since the initiation of the March 2020 restrictions.  And to be sure, students have learned at varying paces over the past year or so.  However, we need to really consider the fact that learning does not begin and end at school.  Some of the most valuable learning occurs in social situations, when ids are bored, when creating new games and activities, when reading for pleasure.  This has been a global pandemic so in theory, everyone is “behind.”  Resist the urge to have your child pick up extra tutoring or coursework over this summer (unless there is a clinically significant need, such as in the case of a student withs significant learning disabilities who may require some degree of ongoing support).  Let the kids have fun.  They will catch up on their academics because their brains are built to do so.  Good learning requires play.  So let them play!
  1. Establish comfortable boundaries.  Just because certain provinces are easing restrictions does not mean we are mandated to return to pre-COVID behaviours.  If we are uncomfortable with social gatherings, or find ourselves in situations where we would prefer to wear masks, feel free to be clear on your boundaries.  Saying “no thanks” to social situations is a good way to establish clear and reasonable boundaries.  

Copyright Macdonald Psychology Group 2021

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