As summer break sets in, a collective sense of parental doom has descended upon the land.
Thanks to COVID-19, many parents are working from home or not at all, vacations and camps are cancelled or curtailed, and families are getting more together time than they ever bargained for. The big question on everyone’s mind is “How are we going to survive this summer?”
“A lot of people are getting more time at home, which is unprecedented,” said Kaiser Permanente pediatrician Mitul Patel, MD. “But we can take advantage of the time together and put a positive spin on it.”
Sleep Is Most Important
Both Dr. Patel, who has a 3-year-old at home, and Hillary Van Horn-Gatlin, PhD, Kaiser Permanente Northern California regional chair of Behavioral Medicine, who has a 2-, 4-, and 8-year-old at home, said bedtimes and wake-up times are at the top of the list for wellbeing this summer.
“One of the things I caution against is letting bedtime creep up past 10,” said Van Horn-Gatlin. “If they are sleeping the entire morning away because they are playing video games until 2 a.m., they are missing out on activities that are good for their mental and physical wellbeing.”
Dr. Patel said laying down the law on bedtimes and wake-up times should be done in phases. He advises parents move in 30-minute increments toward their goals rather than making a sudden decree that rolls bedtime back by several hours.
Consistency in parenting, whether it involves bedtime or any other rule, “is massively important whether you have a 3-year-old or a 23-year-old,” said Van Horn-Gatlin.
Exercise Is an Elixir
Kids at home for the summer should have dedicated times to exercise each day, such as going on a bike ride or going for a walk, Dr. Patel said. If the parents are available to go along, that’s even better.
“Make it a point to go with the kids on that bike ride,” Dr. Patel said. “You will be surprised what you learn about your child and the impact you can have on them, just by simply going on a walk and having the time to talk with them.”
Limit Screen Time, Adults Too
Van Horn-Gatlin said many children feel a sense of loss at having an anti-climactic end to the school year with online or walk-through graduation celebrations and no parties. A natural reaction is to go online to socialize. But limits to online time are important, she said.
“Part of the structure for summer should be down time from screens,” Van Horn-Gatlin said. “The same rules should apply to the parents, or it’s going to feel very hypocritical to the kids.”
As the end of the day approaches, make sure to limit kids’ and teens’ caffeine intake and eat dinner at a reasonable time, then turn off the screens, Van Horn-Gatlin said.
Ask for Help
“This situation might be our new normal,” said Dr. Patel. “But we have to learn to adapt. A lot of kids are mentally feeling the strain. If you notice changes and your child doesn’t feel comfortable, you should reach out to your pediatrician.”