When Summer Break Looks Different

June 29, 2020 Updated: July 3, 2020

This summer will look and feel different for many families who just wrapped up “distance learning” and are now facing a summer of canceled plans. I spoke to Amy Elizabeth Olrick and Jeffrey Olrick, the authors of “The 6 Needs of Every Child: Empowering Parents and Kids Through the Science of Connection,” about their advice for parents during this different-looking summer. Here’s what they said.

The Epoch Times: With a calendar of canceled plans before them, what can parents do this year to ensure a mentally and emotionally healthy summer for their kids?

Jeffrey Olrick: Many things we expected or were looking forward to aren’t happening now, so both parents and kids are dealing with losses. Families will have an easier time switching gears and embracing new possibilities if they first name the things they’re disappointed about. Then, after grieving together, we encourage families to have a conversation that maps out a new vision for the summer. Talk about the fun things everyone would like to do individually and as a family, and name people’s needs and responsibilities to consider how to support each other.

Amy Elizabeth Olrick: Many parents will be working from home this summer without childcare. If this is the case for you, invite your kids to help problem-solve how to get through this. For instance, during the strictest days of quarantine, we told our kids we were having a hard time keeping up with our work while also helping them with school work. Hearing this, our two older boys offered to cook dinner two nights a week to help free up some of our time. Even very young children can participate in family functioning in small ways, and guiding and encouraging their participation builds their sense of belonging. Sometimes the support our kids offer is messy or imperfect, but valuing it not only helps us, it also shows children what they’re capable of.

Jeffrey: On their own, we encourage parents to name the expectations they have for themselves and their children this summer and then wonder if those expectations are realistic. This is a stressful time for everyone, and to get through it well, our kids need to feel our love for them. If doing things like allowing more screen time than normal alleviates your stress and reduces conflict, that’s OK. This situation is hard. Try to give yourself and your kids grace as you make it through.

jeffrey olrick and amy olrick
Jeffrey Olrick and Amy Elizabeth Olrick. (Erik Annis)

The Epoch Times: Your book is all about connection. What can parents do this summer to enhance their relationships with their children and meet their needs for connection?

Jeffrey: After you and your kids make a plan for the summer, be intentional about checking in with them regularly to ask how they feel things are going. What is working well, and what do they wish they could change? Kids are observant and often have good insight, so take what they have to say seriously.

Our kids thrive when they feel our love, so setting aside uninterrupted time to spend together is a great way to stay connected.

Amy: With young kids, even small amounts of focused time can make a big difference. Sometimes spending 20 minutes together after lunch doing an activity of a small child’s choice will help you to avoid an afternoon of meltdowns. Older children are more likely to open up around casual interactions, so be intentional about making time to be together. Invite your kids to join you for walks, plan a movie marathon, set up some new art supplies on the kitchen table, or make ice cream sundaes to eat outside under the stars. Little beautiful things often connect us the most, and this summer is still a good time to make wonderful memories.

6 needs book
“The 6 Needs of Every Child: Empowering Parents and Kids Through the Science of Connection” by Amy Elizabeth Olrick and Jeffrey Olrick.

The Epoch Times: What unique challenges might parents prepare for this summer?

Jeffrey: To limit the spread of COVID, most people will have to maintain changes in their personal behavior this summer. Some of these changes are restrictive and hard to maintain, and kids are likely to grow tired of them. They also may not understand why they’re necessary. If your kids see other people choosing not to make changes themselves, they may be confused and even angry. Older kids may decide that if others aren’t following the rules, they won’t either. The potential for parent-child conflict over these issues is high.

Amy: As an adult, you have knowledge and insight your kids don’t have. Talk to them about the choices your family is making and how those choices can affect and protect others. The frustration, loneliness, and sadness that many kids will be feeling are real, so telling them that you understand this situation is hard and you also wish it were different will help you get through this together.

The Epoch Times: What benefits might families enjoy this summer, under the unique circumstances?

Jeffrey: Our busy modern world tends to reserve family connection time for special occasions. In typical daily life, parents and kids have separate activities and go in different directions. This altered situation invites us to share more of our lives and our needs with each other, which could also be an invitation to greater connection.

Asking kids questions like, “Are things working?” “Did we miss something?” “What do we need to change to make things work better?” will begin to build a collaborative system in your family.

Amy: Collaborative systems tap into children’s internal motivation to be in good relationship with their parents, which is the most powerful and enduring way to make positive change. In the face of adversity, love and connection will bring out our best selves as parents and help our children to grow and thrive, too.

The Epoch Times: What can parents do to best prepare their children for going back to school (or not) in the fall?

Jeffrey: Many children will be happy to return to school and see their friends again. But some children are going to have heightened anxiety. They may worry they’ve fallen behind academically or about the social pressures they’ll face and the possibility of sickness. Have open conversations with your children about how they are feeling about going back. Ask them if they have any specific worries or fears. Follow their lead.

Amy: Children mostly look to us to find out how they should feel about new things. If they’re having specific fears, tell them you’ll advocate for them and that you’ll help keep them safe and get caught up academically when it’s time to integrate back into school.

Follow Barbara on Twitter: @barbaradanza