Four Ways Parents Can Help Their Kids Re-Engage
What do kids need to thrive this summer, after a grueling year of pandemic restrictions that has taken a particular toll on youth? What are the options to help them thrive? How do we separate our own re-entry anxiety from that of our children?
These were the questions that framed the discussion at a recent workshop for parents at COVID Support VT. Vermont Care Partners Quality Director Cath Burns, Ph.D., COVID Support VT’s clinical supervisor, led the session in conjunction with South Royalton pediatrician Ashley Miller, M.D. Miller sits on Vermont’s statewide Covid task force. Both told participants they’ve been hearing from a lot of people around the state who are anxious about re-engagement.
A Recurrent Question: Is it Safe?
“I’m hearing it from kids of all ages,” said Miller. “People want to know what is safe to do now.”
Miller reassured participants that outside activities are generally very safe. “We’ve seen that the risk of transmission outside is incredibly low, and that younger kids don’t transmit it as easily,” she said. “The science shows that being unmasked outside is very safe, even for unvaccinated kids.” The state’s safety protocols for summer camps are due to be published soon, she said.
A participating parent pointed out that masking policies can be confusing for young children, who may not understand why it’s okay to go without a mask in some instances but not others. Miller acknowledged that public health policies for the masses can’t account for the nuances of individual situations and that shifting policies can send mixed signals about what is safe.
“Much of it comes down to personal decisions based on the risk to our family. We can help our kids understand why we’re making the choices we are – maybe it’s to protect Grandma or a sister with asthma.”
Social Skills Sharpen Through Practice
Burns, who is also a clinical psychologist, says the parental worries she’s encountered go beyond the risk of getting Covid. “Yes, parents have concerns about their children’s risks of Covid,” Burns said. “But they also are concerned that their kids are not being socially engaged.”
Social skills, Burns said, are like any other skill set: practice sharpens them. On the flip side, lack of engagement can make us rusty, especially for those who may already have some level of anxiety socially. In childhood, social relationships are prime fuel for learning and development. Relating to other children and other adults is key to helping kids “learn how to be out in the world,” Burns said.
How Can We Help Our Kids Make the Most of Summer?
Burns offered four general areas in which parental support can be critical as kids and teens re-engage with the world. Parents can help their kids:
- Rebuild their lives away from screens. “Kids and most adults have lived their lives on screen, by necessity,” Burns said. Now we’re having to relearn how to help kids – and ourselves! — pry their eyes off the device screen and interact in person .”
- Rekindle social relationships. This is equally important for older children and teens as it is for young children and infants, some of whom are unused to seeing people without masks. They may need to learn for the first time or relearn facial cues and what they mean.
- Engage in recreational or vocational activities. Summer is the chance for kids of all ages to explore activities that “round out their lives,” Burns said.
- Get used to being in a routine again. Routines help children and youth get prepared for school in Fall. If kids have things to do with others during the summer, the return to school will likely be easier, Burns conjectured. “But we won’t tell them that,” she quipped.
How Do I Find Out What’s Available for Kids?
Burns outlined a number of sources for summer programs for kids of all ages.
- Summer Matters, the state- and federal-funded summer engagement program, links people to camps, activities and educational programming statewide. Summer Matters is based on the principle that “if a kid wants to do something, there ought to be a place they can go to do,” Burns said.
- Kids Vermont offers a fairly comprehensive listing of Vermont-based day and sleepover camps in its Vermont Camp Finder.
- The Vermont Family Network offers information and links to programming for children with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
Community-Based Summer Camps
Other places to check for summer camps or other programming are right in your community. Burns noted that program fees are sometimes on a sliding scale, and scholarships may be available. “Always ask,” she said.
- Local schools and/or educational personnel. “Call your school!” Burns implored.
- Parks and recreation department of municipalities.
- Churches and faith-based organizations.
- Higher education campuses.
- Nature and outdoor centers.
- Private business and fitness centers.
- Private schools and day care centers
Find More Resources for Parents
Watch this space for our next Parenting Series installment: Seven Things to Do if Your Child is Worried.
Learn more about how to support children’s re-engagement and mental health with our list of Parent and Caregiver COVID-19 Resources.
Need to Talk?
Call 2-1-1 (in Vermont) for assistance.
If you or someone you care for is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can: call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-825; text VT to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor 24/7; connect with your local community mental health center for 24/7 support.
Find resources and tools for coping with stress at www.COVIDSupportVT.org.
Find your local community mental health center by visiting Vermont Care Partners.
COVID Support VT is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed by Vermont’s Department of Mental Health, and administered by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide network of 16 non-profit community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and supports.