What challenges are families facing this summer that are different from the ones they are used to? Kids of different ages are accustomed to outdoor summer activities with lots of other kids. But general and specialized camps are closed this summer because it’s not safe for groups of kids to gather or for their counselors. It’s just not possible to keep enough distance to insure good health.
Summer weather does afford the opportunity to be outside rather than feeling locked in the house during the winter months, but it’s time for parents and kids to be creative with these outdoor activities.
A plus that parents may not be as aware of is that overscheduling is no longer a hazard to exhaustion and stress which had been common before when parents and kids tried to fit in too many activities in a day.
“Feeling emotionally secure and not overtired are important components of happiness that are often not considered when parents schedule their children’s daily lives…As you schedule your daily lives, it is essential to look at your intentions as a parent, your child’s intentions, and how your resulting plans will impact everyone psychologically” (Hollman, The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Exhaustion in Children and Teens: The Parental Intelligence Way, 2020, 105-106).
So, parents and kids can take this opportunity for less rigorous scheduling and time to explore and discover new and old activities but in innovative ways. “In a society that hurries children’s development beyond its natural course, we find that play is minimized” (146). Now is the chance to redress that problem.
Free Play versus Structured Play
Outdoor and indoor enactments of fantasies such as fairy tales parents and kids may read, as well as, stories kids invent help them deal with conflicts in life. If you watch and listen carefully to kids reactions to the characters in fairy tales or the narrations they create in their make-believe worlds, you will be learning what is on their minds. In other words, you will get to know them better and have closer bonds.
Structured activities in formalized camp activities conceal kids minds often so as parents we don’t actually get the opportunity to know our kids better and strengthen those bonds.
“Free play where children imagine and use toy figures to act out ways of dealing with challenges enhances their development. It gives them an opportunity to deal with the stresses of life” (147).
Instead of grade school kids playing teacher and student, you may hear your kids playing doctor and patient where the patient has a virus. Why? Because this is on their minds whether they talk about COVID a lot or not.
Observe and listen carefully to the ways doctors and young patients in play talk to each other: their attitudes, their conversations, their feelings about wearing masks. I recommend not interfering with questions or giving your own suggestions for dialogue, but just listen to your children interact.
If you have an only child, as the available parent you may be asked to play out stories or suggest to your child that you’d enjoy playing with them using their story ideas. Notice your own free-wheeling dialogue and learn about what’s on your mind, too! Playing in this way is a much better avenue than lots of overly serious conversations about the Pandemic.
Playing out Conflicts and Concerns is a Great Way to Master Them
“By ages two to six, play becomes quite dominant through self-created learning experiences with themes of lost and found, dependence and independence, distrust and trust. During the elementary school years, ages six to twelve, children become industrious…Play themes continue to become more complex as the child dramatizes herself or her toy figures as the one in authority, reversing the roles of the real world by making believe she is the teacher, mother” (149) doctor, nurse and policeman.
Make sure you have play figures that represent people of different skin colors and even cultures and you will see play about “Black Lives Matter.” Go on amazon to get any of these toys in a short amount of time. What an opportunity to discuss racial themes or other themes such as those with disabilities in your very own home. You don’t need a classroom to discuss these topics in a non-threatening and definitely non-judgmental way.
“Playing with real things, like baking a cake, gives children the feeling of coping with reality under pleasurable interactions with others” including siblings and adults (147). “These different forms of play give children the feeling they have some control over their own destiny” (147) essential during these uncertain times.
Praising Your Kids Builds Self-Esteem if it’s Specific
There are also many typical activities that don’t require groups like bike riding, skate boarding, throwing balls into a hoop, and playing catch to get the much needed exercise that’s missed if too much time is spent on screens for entertainment. Repetitive athletic play will lead to fast improvement which raises self-esteem. Praise your kids when the ball goes in the hoop even if it’s on their third or tenth try.
Don’t have fancy expectations for immediate success and your kids won’t either but be proud when they succeed after tolerating some failures and disappointments. Praise their perseverance and growing biceps. In other words, be positive but specific about what you are praising. “Good job” just isn’t helpful and will fall on deaf ears pretty quickly.
Play Enhances Child Development at All Ages
Thus, we learn how play helps kids grow, not only school age kids, though, babies, too!
“Infants by twelve months learn object permanence: an object not seen still exists. This results in children playfully looking for and retrieving hidden objects over and over, mastering this new learning experience” (149).
Incidental mishaps may not be considered play in the usual sense but don’t miss these opportunities. “The toddler who drops his food off his high chair for his mother to retrieve it may annoy his mother, but he is having a grand time proving his object permanence knowledge—over and over–he’s proving that what goes away can be found and retrieved. This knowledge grows into hide-and-seek, for example, as three-year-old children learn object constancy and practice the appearance and disappearance of loved ones” (149) not only objects.
At a time when kids are hearing too much about death and dying on the news (which should be monitored to prevent trauma) or seeing a parent closed in an at-home office for many hours who can’t be disturbed, remembering that when living parents disappear for a while, they will return and be glad to see you.
By ages eight to twelve, games with rules are fascinating to kids, so pull out or order interesting board games, card games, as well as, video games. Play with your kids. Let them teach you the rules and get a charge out of beating you because they’re more skilled. In the meantime, they’re learning rules apply to all players consistently, we must all wait our turns, and we must all tolerate the jealousy of others when we are the winners, as well as, the frustrations when we are the losers.
Play Using Technology
“In this age of newer and newer technology, children learn to use computer-driven games with great skill at earlier ages. Their knowledge of symbols is encouraged with the icons on their well-known games. Children become the experts and their parents the students. This enthusiasm for educational video games does not bring a loss of the imaginary play that children invent for themselves. It is an addition—contrary to the beliefs of many naysayers who fear the innovative toys of today” (151,152)
It’s interesting that the mind-set of ‘discover and collaborate’ began online with interactive video game playing. So when parents encourage their kids to teach them their favorite video games they not only show respect for their kids’ knowledge, but discover how they are persistent problem solvers who emphasize cooperation among players more than individual competition. Surely competition still will be seen among siblings, but if it’s at home, parents and kids can discuss how competition helps us gain new knowledge as well as tolerate losing as a way to learn. We learn much more from mistakes than easy successes. Let your kids know you really believe that, so they can, too. (Hollman, The Busy Parent’s Guide to Managing Technology with Children and Teens: The Parental Intelligence Way, 2020).
Playing at Home Can Prevent the Exhaustion of Camp Life
Take advantage of the fact that the pressures of scheduling camps and working parents outside the home are finally lax. You will discover
“Children who are playing are not exhausted children. They are happy and cheerful, exploring and discovering fun for learning and fun for its own sake. They build forts out of pillows on a couch and wood and limbs in their yards. They climb trees to prove their strength and prowess and race around, expending the wonderful energy of their youth (152).”
Reducing Stress on Parents Who Work At-Home
It’s a great learning experience for kids to see their parents work at home. It’s not only great role modeling for kids’ futures but helps them respect the energy their parents are putting in to support them. Establishing rules about not disturbing a working parent, maybe planning a special treat to surprise the working parent on a break, or sharing with your kids what in fact you are working on goes a long way in building not only your kids’ character but bringing them more into your world.
It’s okay to let kids know when parents are tired after a long work day at home. Kids learn more easily how to give their parents time to themselves after work because they now really see how long and hard their mothers and fathers are concentrating on their jobs. This reduces stress on the working parents and builds admiration for them by their kids. Kids admiration, too, by the way lessens stress for adults.