The Summer of Nothing

The Summer of Nothing Something

I am hearing from many families that their lovely plans for summer travel, camps, and more are being canceled, slowly but surely, due to this year’s Coronavirus Pandemic. This is a huge disappointment not only for our children of all ages but for you, as parents. Summer camps have been a time of rest and rejuvenation (and getting some work done, of course) for you while opportunities for stretching independent wings for your children and teens. So how are we going to help you get both of those when we are in the middle of a pandemic!? Good question!

Name it to tame it

You may have a child who is nonverbal or an adult living at home who seems disinterested in all that the world is throwing at us this year. You may have a child who tends to become anxious when you talk about people getting sick or dying. But just because they are not asking does not mean that they are not aware that something is up. Just because they feel overwhelmed by emotions does not mean we should simply avoid topics and they will go away. We are all weary. We are all feeling the weight of the worlds illnesses and divisions. But we also know that talking about things often helps. My favorite authors, Bryson and Siegel, share how helpful simply “naming it to tame it” can be for calming one’s system. The unsaid, the unknown and the left unnamed can grow big and unwieldy, especially for children. Name it (the fact that stores and favorite places are closed, that we are all disappointed, that we are afraid of getting sick or hurt), share what you know in basic terms (it is called a pandemic. It is called protesting) and share that you are available for questions. You don’t have to share all the finer details unless they ask or indicate further curiosity. The old standard is to only share as much as a child is asking and a tad more for learning sake. And if your child is nonverbal, there are amazing social stories out about the pandemic and racism. Some can be found through basic google searches and others on youtube. I am not linking them here, as there are more and better ones every day. I trust that you can find them and more that meet your and your child’s specific needs better than I can here. But do not leave it at one conversation or share and think you are done. Children and all people commonly need time to process and consider their questions or thoughts on a given subject. Be sure to return regularly to check in, see if there are questions, or simply share how you are choosing to handle your own stress and contemplations about the events. Reassure them that tough stuff can happen and that you are there to discuss them, if they need you.

Find Rest for You This Summer

The world is heavy right now. Allow yourself processing time. I do know that this is a much more challenging task than I even can imagine. If you are a single parent at home during this pandemic with a child or two or three with special needs, therapy, school, and other activities, my hat is off to you. If you are a two parent household where both of you are working full time while having kids at home, my hat is off to you, as well. This time is unprecedented. Do not take on too much guilt. Love and connection will always come before academics and Pinterest science projects. If all you can do in a day is sit beside your child and allow them to be on their device for longer than you’d ever typically like, but it allows you to breathe deeply and contemplate life, that is a-okay.

I have some pretty amazing parents of children of all ages with autism in my life. Here are a few things they have found helpful in stealing away time for their own rest and rejuvenation in their busy lives:

  • In two parent households, schedule or plan ahead for who will be with the kids the next day. Be specific with start and end times and hold each other to the times so that you can fully let go when it is time with the other parent.
  • Determine a code word for when you are at your wits end and need a break. This word can be silly or serious but should not be related to the struggle. We want you to remain strong and united to your kids as you transition from one stressed parent to the other with more reserves. This can also be used as a single parent on the phone to a neighbor or friend.
  • Create a contingency plan for those times when you are completely or near completely spent. Plan ahead so that you do not have to think too hard when the time comes when you are at the end of your rope. If two parents, maybe if you both decide you are in need of rejuvenation before you can be the parent you wish to be, it is automatically pizza and movie night!?
  • Enlist regular help from others who are willing and able. Even if this is just for a few minutes each night to read a story over Zoom or have a dance party via FaceTime – if it means you have a moment to sit down and sip a cup of tea or wine… go for it.
  • Take walks daily either with another adult (if your children are old enough to be left alone for a little while) or take turns so that you each can do so.
  • Create a little nook on your patio, deck, or simply in your living room for a weekly meeting with yourself or your spouse. Have coffee and reflect on the week – what went well? What are you grateful for?

Find Opportunities for Independence and Exploration

The summer is commonly a time for children and teens to find new opportunities, be social in new ways, and grow new independence. Well, all does not have to be lost to the pandemic. We can still find ways for your child, teen, or adult living at home to stretch and challenge themselves to new heights of independence. Here are a few ways you can support both their independence and their willingness/ability to experiment.

  • Have your child, teen, and/or adult living at home make dinner at least 1x/week – let go, allow mistakes, allow experimentation, coach through problems but do not solve them for them.
  • Schedule time to study the driving manual online and start mini-driving lessons
  • Decide on roles for each member of the family for the Summer. For example, one member might be the videographer, another the photographer, another the scribe, and another the party planner. It often helps us navigate uncertain times when we have a role to play. Schedule a weekly day and time to check in throughout the summer on everyone’s progress.
  • Similarly, consider a nightly dinner conversation sharing challenges you have each taken that day or ones that you are working on (e.g., from TikTok challenges to leveling up in some video game to learning to bake a proper cake).
  • Choose destinations that sounds amazing to visit from your very own home – go on google maps, pick up the little orange person-figure and visit those places virtually. It is pretty amazing where you can go – even inside concert halls in New York City to driving on bridges in Lisbon, Portugal and floating the canals in Venice, Italy. Consider regular virtual vacations where each person in the family gets to choose – match with food from that region, if you really want to do it up!
  • Either read the same book as your child, teen, or adult or consider learning how to play one of their games like Magic the Gathering or one of their video games. Sometimes we avoid things we do not initially find interest but with diligence and curiosity, you might just find a connection that just may bring your child out more substantially due to their feeling heard, understood, and seen.
  • Add a new household chore or two. You can partner with them at first if it is a new chore to them. Do not assume they can just jump in. Some children, teens, or adults may say “no” or seem disinterested when they actually simply need help to learn how. Assume positive intent, raise your expectations and partner with them – but only do up to 50%. If you do more than that, you are doing too much and run the risk of your child backing off, feeling unnecessary for the task or chore. Again, not out of unwillingness but out of logical efficiency.
  • Have your child, teen, or adult at home help the family choose a charity by researching and deciding on actions you can take to support that charity.
  • Experiment each day with simple calming strategies like deep breathing or stretching – determine what works and what doesn’t for each person in the family – it may be different for each and so important to know what works for you.

I hope that you have found some useful tips and things to consider in this blog. Wishing you a peaceful and enjoyable Summer even while we navigate the unknowns.