Parents, if there’s ever a time to sympathize with your children, now is it. If there’s one thing kids look forward to, it’s summertime. Think about it: summer camps, trips, vacations, jobs, and enrichment opportunities.
Every couple of days, my teenage daughter comes to me with a realization of something she won’t get to do this summer because of COVID-19. She’s already missed one summer camp, the family reunion is not going to happen, and a summer program she was hoping to take part in is off the table. Oh, and she wanted to start her babysitting business this summer.
She’s bummed about it. Kids all over are bummed about it. About 20 million children, adolescents, and adults in the U.S. attend camps each year. Not this year. When your children are coming to the realization that COVID-19 is about to “ruin” their summer, that’s where you as a parent must step in and help your kids process what they may be feeling. Here are some ways you can help your disappointed kids.
Deal with yourself first.
This is a blow to parents as well. A) We may hate that they might be home all day. B) We hate what they are missing out on, too. You may experience your own anger, frustration, sadness, or some other emotion. Identify and own it. Then do what you must to address it and move forward.
Provide space for your child to express their emotions.
Your child may be experiencing disappointment, sadness, grief, anger, or any other emotions. You may see it on their face, in their actions, or in their responses. Asking them if they are disappointed because of summer cancellations with a soft, caring tone, or simply telling them it’s okay to be sad, gives them permission to experience their emotions.
Empathize with and validate their feelings.
Regarding the cancellation of summer plans, child development and parenting expert, Dr. Deborah Gilboa says in TODAY that parents should tend to their child’s feelings but not put boundaries on their feelings. You don’t have to fix their emotions. Sometimes an “I understand” or “It’s okay that you feel that way” is all that’s in order. Your own stories of dealing with disappointments can provide your children with some comfort and help your kids process what’s going on.
Discuss what they are really missing.
It’s not just that they’re missing the activity of the summer. Kids look forward to reconnecting with family and friends they only see in the summer. The summer is a chance to explore their own personal interests. For teens, it might be the freedom that comes with having a job and, more specifically, having money. Students use the summer to do things to boost their resumé. Asking them, “What do you miss about not being able to do a particular activity?” can help your child think through what they enjoy about the summer and what it is they are really missing.
Look for alternatives.
Dr. Gilboa says that there are four elements to having a fun summer: independence, connection, purpose, and fun. What are some alternative ways to help your children experience those four elements that they often get from summer camps, jobs, and trips? S’mores, water fun, camping in the backyard, movie marathons, unstructured play, Zoom game nights with friends, gardening, building something, learning something new? Be realistic, but also be open to new challenges. It can make your summer memorable. This 30 Day Challenge can provide you some great alternatives.
Keep Loving ‘Em Through.
This isn’t all one conversation for one setting. Having one conversation doesn’t mean the emotions are gone and won’t come back. And it doesn’t mean that your efforts to make it a meaningful summer are futile if they still experience sadness or grief at other times throughout the summer. Ongoing conversations can help your kids process ongoing emotions.
Your kids may be experiencing loss and uncertainty. They may be worried about how this affects their chances at college admissions and scholarships or feel like they are losing their childhood. Your consistent presence and willingness to both sit with and help them adjust to a different kind of summer can provide a positive memory of how to deal with disappointment that will serve them well for years to come.