How to make summer feel different for kids

How to make summer feel different for kids
Dr Colman Noctor: “Families have to accept this summer’s limitations.”

Schools should be wrapping up for summer this week. Instead, it’s just more of the same for our kids. 

So how do we make the next two months feel different? 

Helen O’Callaghan asks the experts —and hears their family plans for July and August

School breaking for summer holidays is traditionally a signal for glee — the euphoric exit from the classroom and the blissful anticipation of exciting events on the horizon — carefree summer camps, seaside funfairs, friends and family descending for back garden barbeques, not to mention two weeks away on a sunny foreign beach.

And now a pandemic, like some summertime Grinch, has replaced that two-month oasis of excitement with, well, more of the same — an extension of what we’ve been living for the past three months. 

Yes, we are starting to open up, but it’ll be a slow return to some kind of normal — and not at all the summer children are used to.

So how can we make this summer feel different for children, when boundaries remain part of the equation?

How can we differentiate the next two months, particularly as the kids have been out of school since March?

We asked three experts, who also share how they plan to handle summer-during-Covid with their families.

Dr Colman Noctor

How to make summer feel different for kids
Dr Colman Noctor: Switching off for a period of time together will give everyone the feeling of being off.

“It would be impossible to sustain two months of difference when parents are working from home. 

"So if you’re trying to make it different, the period of time [this’ll be possible] will be shorter — more like the typical two-week adult holiday.

“The marked difference should be the parent’s availability for the child. 

"Children know the difference between you being home and off on a Saturday, and you being home but working and doing four Zoom calls.

“Over the summer, parents have to be able to cordon off a sustained period of time off. 

"Switching off for a period of time together will give everyone the feeling of being off.

“Families have to accept this summer’s limitations. 

"Expecting it to be more muted than normal will help children feel less disappointed and parents feel under less pressure. 

"It’s about saying to kids: ‘you know we generally go to Portugal for a fortnight — that won’t be possible this year’. 

"And it’s not like the neighbours will be off to Lake Garda or your kids’ friends are going somewhere and you’re not — nobody’s doing it. 

"So the collective struggle will make it a bit easier to explain it to children.

“Younger children prefer experiences to things. They don’t get the Frenchness of France — they’d have as much craic in Sligo. 

So create experiences. Over your designated off time, do the barbeques, build the forts, bake together — create as many common and collective experiences as possible.

“I’m going to ring-fence the two weeks I plan to take off and I’ll be signalling that to my three children, who are aged nine, seven, and five, in the same way as I would if we were going away on holiday. 

"I’ll be saying ‘mum and dad will be taking time off and we’ll be home free. We won’t be working or doing meetings, so we’ll be able to schedule more time to do the fun stuff’. 

"And if there’s something the children really want to do, I’m going to stall it until then, park it until the holiday, to make it special.

“If parents put a value on something, kids will value it. 

"So if you value this time doing things together, they’ll value it too.”

Dr Colman Noctor is a psychotherapist with St Patrick’s Mental Health Services

Stella O’Malley

Stella O’Malley: This is a gift to children, they need to be bored, to think, ‘I’ve nothing on what will I do’?
Stella O’Malley: This is a gift to children, they need to be bored, to think, ‘I’ve nothing on what will I do’?

“They’ll remember this summer! It’ll stick out. 

"They may well remember it as this incredibly long, boring time, but if they recall it as gentle, languid and leisurely, that’s alright.

“Pre-Covid, many children were overscheduled and oversubscribed. 

"Every psychotherapist was saying they were too busy, too harried. Adults are so used to being busy we’d inflicted busy on kids.

“So this is a gift to children — they need to be bored, to think ‘I’ve nothing on. What will I do? 

"Maybe I’ll do some sketching in the garden or take a ball down the park’. I earnestly think they needed not to have much on or much expected of them. 

"Summer camps require lots of performance — getting to know new people, end-of-week ceremonies. 

"When Covid leaves, many people will go back on the hamster wheel. This is a one-off opportunity children won’t get again — it’ll honestly be good for them.

Home-schooling has been relentless, very difficult on parents and children.

"There’s been a lot of distress, and many parents wishing their child could learn quickly so they could get back to work. 

"And huge screen habits have happened since March. The temptation will be to stick them in front of a screen again now — instead reduce screen time.

“With holidays starting, parents may be expected to morph from their child’s teacher to their camp leader. 

"There’ll be a social media push to ‘create your own summer camp’. I reject this. 

"Some parents try to entertain their children. Some kids expect it. We need to step back. 

"The notion that a parent is their child’s entertainer happened in the 90s and noughties — it’s a false premise.

“I’d be very concerned about children’s mental health. 

"I think there are extrovert children tipping into depression because they’re not seeing anyone. 

"I’d recommend giving lots of attention to your children’s socialising this summer — take it incredibly seriously. 

How to make summer feel different for kids
This summer some children will find interests that will shape their future career.

"Be organised and proactive — ask, ‘who does my child need to meet?’ 

"So your child might see their friend in the company of a parent of each for a socially distant picnic, walk, to go fishing or meet in the park.

“With my own children — 12-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy — I’ll be very proactive about trying to organise social opportunities [with peers], particularly for my extrovert daughter, who’s feeling it that she’s not meeting friends. 

"My boy has organised to go for a socially distant cycle with his friend.

“Children in middle childhood have been most hit by [school closures]. Teens are self-organising and young children want to hang out with mum and dad. 

"But the eight to 13-year-olds usually meet within activities — which have been taken from them. They are most vulnerable to feeling deflated.

“I think children will look back on these summer holidays and see richness in this time: they weren’t rushing — and rushing causes a lot of anxiety. 

"Many people who went on to do great things had periods of enforced confinement as children, maybe because of TB. 

"This summer some children will find interests that will shape their future career.”

Stella O’Malley is an author and psychotherapist

Dr Harry Barry

How to make summer feel different for kids
Dr Harry Barry: The Covid restrictions have provided an opportunity for children to try more creative activities like, reading, drawing, or arts and crafts.
Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins

“Home-schooling of some form has been happening in most homes. 

"That going will be a big distinction — it’ll be a big pressure off parents and a big load off children.

“What will be different about the next two months will rely a little on the gradual easing of restrictions. 

"You’d hope children will be allowed to start mixing, as well as to meet with grandparents.

“I foresee a lot of day trips — heading off to parks, beaches, forests — but what we can’t do is override public health restrictions. 

"This summer is an opportunity to teach children how to cycle or swim, if they don’t know how. 

"There’ll definitely be opportunities for parents to play sport with children, to teach them how to play Gaelic or soccer, depending on the child’s interests.

“Children vary. Some love being outside playing sports. Others prefer reading, painting, and drawing. 

"I’d recommend allowing the child do whatever they’re most happy doing. 

"Children also love doing things with their parents — so if you’re down the garden, give them something they can be involved in too.

“I’m a great believer in getting out in the fresh air. Get everyone out in the sun to improve Vitamin D levels — this’ll improve immunity coming into autumn and sunlight will also boost mood.

“Parents may get a chance this summer to buy a small tent, go to the beach and put it up. 

I wouldn’t rule out a staycation — after a while some camp centres might open and parents could take kids away for a night or two.

“I have three children — a son in London and a son in Boston. I haven’t seen them in months and won’t for the most of a year. 

"I have a daughter and two grandchildren in Dublin.

“They’re 30km away and I haven’t seen them in months. My wife and I really miss them, and they miss us. 

"I’m looking forward to being able to meet up with them, within social distancing rules, and maybe going for a picnic on the beach.

“I hope, in a funny kind of way, this summer might bring families closer together.

“A pattern had developed where children always had to be doing something. 

"Now families are thrown back on their own resources, so why not let children do things on their own and be creative. 

"It could be a pretty good summer if we’re prepared to be adaptable and think outside the box.”

Author and GP Dr Harry Barry’s latest book, Emotional Healing, is out now.

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