On track with this year’s theme of uncertainty and change, summer promises to be no different. Common summer routines and patterns, including travel or summer camps and external activities, don’t offer much promise to families. Adding on the pressures of social distancing and wanting children to ‘catch-up’ on missed learning due to school closures or home-schooling, it is quite natural for parents and carers to feel at a loss about planning for the upcoming months. It is interesting to explore the narrative around parents’ quest to keep their children ‘occupied.’ At times, it may arise from a belief that being busy is good for the developing brain, or a need to get your own work done! While these are valid feelings, however, what is counterproductive is the guilt associated with giving children free time, or passing on the ‘productivity pressure’ to our children, which many adults have fallen prey to during this pandemic. The next time you are really worried about your child’s productivity, reflect on where these thoughts come from.
In reality, every family is undergoing their own, unique experience during this pandemic. Entering the summer period marks a transition phase, which provides a good opportunity to reflect on your pandemic parenting experiences: what worked well and what must be avoided at all costs! Knowing this will help you set the tone for the summer months. Lower your expectations of yourself and your child this summer — this will go a long way.
In the absence of routines during the summer, it is good to have several ideas up your sleeve as a parent or carer. Do consider how you implement them; giving limited choices to your child or teen works best. As opposed to making unilateral decisions about how they will spend their time, present them with options. For instance, “Would you like to sort out your clothes first or vacuum?” “Play the piano now or after having a snack?” Choices help them feel in control and you are more likely to get positive responses this way.
For the little ones, free play is most likely your best bet. Research suggests having fewer toys and more freedom to decide what to do with them is helpful for developing children’s problem-solving and creative thinking skills. Go traditional and think back to your own childhood!
It may also be a good time to introduce or strengthen a second or third language. Multilingual students are known to have better executive functioning abilities, such as planning, problem-solving, memory and attention — all of which contribute to more effective learning. Language learning also presents a unique opportunity to connect with your family or community and build a sense of cultural identity.
Go traditional and think back to your own childhood!
Many of us have felt the urge to give back to the community during these tough times. Random acts of kindness, a well-known technique steeped in positive psychology, offers many benefits to the giver, including mental and physical well-being. Why not coordinate a compassion project involving your child as the primary ‘doer?’
Towards the end of the summer, a significant task will inevitably involve preparing for the next transition: back-to-school. Do spend some time working through your own thoughts or worries about this and provide an open space to address those of your younger ones. Highlight what new routines might look like, such as modified school timings or not being seated close to peers in class. Also, point out opportunities for greater social connection that will hopefully re-emerge such as asking, “Who are you looking forward to seeing the most at school?”
Lastly, if none of these tips work for your family, find comfort in the fact that there is something we will have all accomplished by just getting through the next few months — a resilient mind!
We do need to acknowledge that this will be unlike any other summer. The return to ‘normal’ will most likely be a roller coaster in itself, but what will help is keeping the seatbelts fastened and staying connected with our loved ones.
For more in-depth ideas about how to put these strategies into use and additional summer parenting tips, watch Dr. Laungani’s recorded talk in collaboration with the UAE’s Ministry of Education.
Dr. Diksha Laungani is a Dubai-based educational psychologist at The Carbone Clinic and training specialist at Sunshine Learning Difficulties Center. She is passionate about hearing the voices of children and young people of determination and promoting their self-determination.