Summer Plans have gone out the window, now what?

By Dr. Sheri Pickover

No more homework, no more books, no more.. oh wait, school has been out for months.  Now summer is here and there are no day or sleep away camps, no tennis lessons; just lots and lots of free time.  But with health concerns still looming, keeping family members safe but productive will be quite the challenge.  You’ve probably heard “I’m bored” so many times it’s becoming the new “are we there yet” for people stuck in homes.

Humans thrive with structure, purpose and meaning.  The tasks we do every day like drinking coffee, making our bed, or playing the same video game until we reach a certain level all help us stay on track. These actions or rituals seem basic, but they are vital for our mental health.  Families are like sports teams, the parents are the coaches, making the rules and guiding the players to work together to be stronger and connected. The children are the players, each needing a specific role and game plan in order to help the team win.   This article will give some tips on how to give your sport team a winning summer season.

  1. Identify your Strengths

Recognize your own family’s strengths.  As a family, you already have structure, like an internal clock, that helps your family run.  You have the foods you like to cook, the way you eat your hotdogs (mustard or ketchup?), the chairs each of you sit in the living room, the first tasks you do in the morning and the last tasks you do at night, the tv shows you watch together and the games you play.  Think about all the structure and rituals already in place to keep the house running and write them down or draw them out to help remind you how much you already do.  Remember there is no “right” way to be a family.  What works for one family might not work for another, but all families already have built in strengths and structures that give the family purpose and meaning.

  1. A picture paints a thousand words

Humans tend to focus more attention on what we see and hear, then what we just hear.  Whenever possible, use pictures to illustrate your structure.  Create stop, go and yield signs to structure bedtime or end fighting. Color code a daily schedule so everyone knows purple means bedtime. Use pictures to assign chores.  Involve the entire family and let each member choose the colors or pictures.  Families work best when everyone feels connected and involved.

  1. Create new rituals

Changing patterns: Families have had two months to figure out what has been working and what hasn’t been working in the new world of social distancing. Humans love consistency, but we also love variety and easily become bored if when everything feels the same. Evaluate what rituals are working and which ones need to change.  Remember, great coaches always change up the plays to keep the players engaged and in top performance.  Maybe it’s time for the shortstop to become the pitcher, meaning it is time for someone else in the family to take charge of homework or making the bed. If homework or learning time is fraught with tension, think about changing the time of day for homework; break up the time into smaller time frames, or even try skipping days to introduce a new structure.

Create a playbook: Even the most successful teams must change their playbook.  Work as a family to create a “playbook” of structure, such as bedtime rituals chores, video time, outside time or morning rituals. For example, the playbook could contain a plan for bedtime that includes who gets to use the bathroom first, the length of the bedtime story, or for teens, a ritual of choosing one strength to brag about each night. Think about switching up who can choose the plays for each week or month.  Keeping everyone in the family involved means all members feel part of the team.

Plan a Summer long Family Activity: Without the normal ebb and flow of camps, sports, and play dates, keeping everyone from getting bored will be difficult.  If we stick with the team sports metaphor, players must still stay sharp off season.  Planning an activity that everyone does together, either for a few minutes every day, or even once a week, will act as a thread that will weave throughout the summer to keep the team working together.  Here are some ideas for children of all ages:

  1. Create a time capsule for summer 2020 to be opened in 10 years on how everyone survived the summer of social distancing. Family members could write letters to themselves, draw pictures, put in news clippings, create art projects, create videos or songs, or make collages.  Parents could write songs with their children or the children could record a video for the time capsule. Each project is done a little bit at a time over the entire summer so that by the end of the summer, the time capsule will be ready to be buried.
  2. Play a board game like monopoly or risk, that takes lots of time to finish or turn a board game like Chutes and Ladders into a tournament; each family member could play against each other until someone achieves a certain number of wins. Game play could also happen in teams.  Play for a set time each day or week and have a prize at the end.
  3. Find a hard puzzle (lots of pieces or 3D) and work on it a little bit each day. By the end of the summer it will be finished. This activity works even with small children who can help an older child or parent search for pieces.
  4. Task each family member with writing a book chapter about their summer that gets bound together at the end of the summer. Smaller children could draw pictures that illustrate the book.
  5. Task each family member with drawing a part of a large mural that will fit together at the end of the summer.

At the end of the day, teams, like families, work together not just to win, but to feel connected to each other. But most teams sometimes need outside support to get all the players back on track if they want a winning season. Families, like individuals, sometimes struggle with daily functioning and need to reach out for support.  Congratulate your family for making it through the last few months and know that it happened because of each member’s commitment to each other.

Sheri Pickover, Ph.D. is a staff therapist at Child and Family Solutions Center. She works with children, teens, adults and family. She is conducting teletherapy with her clients and is accepting new referrals. She can be reached at 248-851-5437 and DrSheri@childfsc.com

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