How to Help Your Child Transition to Summer

Graduations and vacations are very different during the pandemic. Here’s advice for helping your family navigate the changes.

family camping in the backyard

Updated on May 27, 2020.

One of the toughest aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is how much we’re missing. While adults can typically roll with passing up a birthday or anniversary celebration, it’s not as easy for children and teenagers, especially when it comes to once-in-a-lifetime events like graduation or prom.

This year’s transition from the school year to summer may be particularly difficult, given that many children will be giving up cherished activities like Little League baseball, camp and family vacations. But aside from the activities themselves, school-age kids are simply missing seeing their friends in person.

“It’s that socialization piece,” says Laura Ross, a school counselor at Five Forks Middle School in Lawrenceville, Georgia, who works with kids in sixth through eighth grade. “Our kiddos love social media, but they thrive on face-to-face.”

The eighth graders at Ross’ school usually have a long-awaited day of fun, music and celebration at the end of the school year. “Now they’re losing that ending together,” she says.

As summer gets underway, consider this advice on how to help your child or teen navigate the transition from school, especially if they’ve missed out on important milestones.

Find special ways to acknowledge their accomplishments

Schools across the country have done the best they can to simulate graduation. Some have held virtual commencement ceremonies. Others have staged events at drive-in movie theaters or organized parades of cars with graduating seniors, giving communities the chance to celebrate from responsible distances.

“We always do an end-of-year video that includes clips and photos from the year and we post that on social media,” says Ross, who was named 2020 School Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselor Association. This year, her school’s seventh graders created a video for the graduating eighth graders as “an extra send-off from their peers.”

One father in Tennessee hosted his daughter’s college graduation in their front yard, complete with “Pomp and Circumstance,” masks and social distancing—and quickly became a social media sensation. Some towns and neighborhoods have formed “adopt-a-senior” drives, many of them on Facebook, through which community members can celebrate graduating seniors with messages, letters, cards or gifts.

Even if your child’s school is planning a virtual or modified version of prom or graduation, consider doing something extra for your child to help them feel celebrated.

Make home home again

“Kids made the transition to home earlier in the year, but then home became home and school,” notes Ross. As summer approaches, she recommends that parents begin the work of reclaiming their home as “school-free.”

How to do that?

The first step is to ensure that children begin stepping away from—and changing their relationship to—computers and other screens as much as possible.

“I know it’s hard,” Ross acknowledges, given that devices have become essential for staying in touch with peers. But think about tweaking the usual screen experience.

“Perhaps they Zoom with a friend while doing an art project together,” says Ross. “That way, they’re experiencing a little of the type of activity they would have had over the summer.”

If a family vacation isn’t in the cards this year, Ross recommends recreating some part of that experience at home. Maybe it’s cooking a special meal tied to a favorite getaway spot or playing family games like you would in a vacation home. “Think of things you tend to do on vacation, rather than relying on TV and Netflix to pass the time,” she advises.

Ask how they’re feeling

“Some students are feeling grief and loss about what they’ve missed out on,” Ross notes. “Others are feeling the sadness of having lost loved ones during the pandemic.”

Whether they’re upset over a canceled graduation or worry about the uncertain future, it’s important to try to stay attuned to your child’s emotions. And often, the best way to do that is to ask them straight out.

“Kids are often thinking about their worries even if they’re not expressing them,” Ross says. “Have that conversation with them to help them know it’s okay to share and to have these feelings.”

Every child is different, and many put on a brave face, cautions Ross, so be sure to check in regularly. Besides letting them know you care, keeping an open line of communication can help parents spot more serious distress, too. Signs that your son or daughter isn’t coping well with COVID-19 can include changes in their behavior (including acting more immature), depression, sleep problems and physical problems like headaches.

If you’re concerned about how your child or teen is coping with COVID-19 and are worried they may be depressed, feeling hopeless or even considering suicide, seek help immediately by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call, text, or chat 988. You can also text HOME to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.

Help your child bounce back

While most kids are quite resilient, they still need parents and other caregivers to guide them through periods of uncertainty and loss. One 2012 review of research on children who’d been through experiences of extreme adversity—such as disaster, war or terrorism—evaluated what helped them adapt and even thrive afterward.

While much depends on how long a child is exposed to a crisis and how dire the circumstances were, in general, a connection with a caring, responsive adult plays a crucial role in a child’s ability to withstand stress, no matter what the source. Ensuring that all basic needs—food, shelter, clothing and health care—are met is essential as well, as is making sure that kids know these are things they don’t need to worry about.

At the end of the day, parents are doing all they can to help their families navigate these unprecedented times. Child Trends, a Maryland-based research organization for children and youth, boils down the essentials to the “3 Rs”: reassurance, routines and regulation.

So, do what you can to reassure your child that they and those they love are safe. Next, even if the cancellations of school ceremonies, sports leagues and camps have interrupted the familiar rhythms of spring and summer, you can still maintain routines at home. Think bedtimes, meals, play—even regular Zooms with friends.

Lastly, support your child’s ability to manage their emotions by helping them communicate how they feel and by using techniques like deep breathing, getting outside and being physically active.

Article sources open article sources

Katie Reilly. “High School Seniors Are ‘Making Lemonade out of Lemons’ With Graduations Online, at Drive-Ins and on Racetracks.” May 14, 2020.
W Yan Jiao, L Na Wang, J Liu, et al. “Behavioral and Emotional Disorders in Children during the COVID-19 Epidemic.” Journal of Pediatrics. June 2020.
NBC Nightly News. “Americans celebrate class of 2020 with ‘adopt a senior’ initiative.” May 20, 2020.
American Academy of Pediatrics. “Talking to Children About Tragedies & Other News Events.”
A Masten, A Narayan. “Child Development in the Context of Disaster, War, and Terrorism: Pathways of Risk and Resilience.” Annual Review of Psychology. January 2012.
Jessica Dym Bartlett, Rebecca Vivrette. “Ways to Promote Children’s Resilience to the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Child Trends. April 3, 2020.

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