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  • Writer's pictureMighty Oaks Counseling

School's Out, Now What?

“School’s out for summer” – Alice Cooper

The end of the school year usually brings excitement for summer camps and travels to new places. We have field days and school parties, exchange yearbooks and hugs, and say goodbye in a way that we know how.

This year, the end of school was very different. Some of us got to say goodbye to our teachers in a parade, but others are left without closure. And now, we are faced with uncertainty. What will summer even look like? Will we get to see our friends? Will we get to travel? We will still be at home?

Before we talk about summer plans, we should first talk about grief. What is grief? Grief is the feeling of missing something. Missing friends. Missing our routine. Missing going places. Missing looking forward to things. And we all experience grief in different ways. It manifests in feelings, our energy level, and motivation (or lack thereof). AND, OUR SOCIETY IS EXPERIENCING COLLECTIVE GRIEF. Some people are angry. Some people are sad. Some people are happy to be at home, because the outside world is scary. We have days that we have energy to complete tasks. We have days that we can barely focus for 2 hours. Some days the screen is just too much. Our bodies are tired, from not only looking at the screen, but because the tension we are carrying from the invisible threat outside our door. (Seriously, wouldn’t it be easier if we could just see the virus?). There are people feeling comfortable wearing masks. There are people protesting masks and refusing to social distance…(these people are saying they are angry, but remember, anger is a secondary emotion. It is usually covering up a feeling that is hard to deal with, like fear, anxiety, and sadness). We are all experiencing a pandemic and trying to do what we think is right.

So, what do we do with grief? We acknowledge it. We name it. “Hello grief. I see you. I feel angry today”. Then, we assess what we can do. Do I need to cry? Do I need to go to my car and yell? What amount of energy do I have today to experience this grief. Approach grief with compassion, not dismissal. We are all experiencing a variety of feelings, including children. As Sven says in Frozen 2, “you feel what you feel and your feelings are real”. No, hitting a sibling is not okay, but feeling angry is. Maybe you can punch your pillow instead.

What else can you do? Here are some ideas to help you navigate the summer with your family, as many of us continue to stay home, and camps are online.

1. Maintain a routine. Did you know a lack of structure can actually cause more anxiety in children? When we have a routine, we feel in control, and know what to expect. This is particularly important now, when we don’t have an answer to when things will be different. Involve your children in their routine to help them feel empowered, and increase the likelihood of success. Make sure mealtimes and bedtimes are as consistent as possible, but the rest is up to you! Maybe you and your child can make a list of afternoon activities, and they get to decide what they do each day. Help them feel in control.

2. Encourage behaviors that help the family be successful as a whole. Remember, that we are allowed to have all the feelings right now. We are surviving a pandemic. Encouragement focuses on the effort put forth, instead of the final product. By encouraging effort, you help you children feel more confident in themselves, and not as dependent on your feedback.

Some examples of encouraging phrases are:

· “You did it!”

· “You got it!”

· "You really worked hard on that”

· “You didn’t give up until you figured it out."

· "Look at the progress you've made…." (Be specific)

· "It was thoughtful of you to___________” or “I appreciate that you____________"

· “You did it all by yourself”

3. If possible, limit screen time a few days a week. I know this is a tough one! With schools requiring so much online experience over the past two months, our kids are “zoomed out”. Have a plan for some substitute activities. Maybe Thursday night is game night? Maybe weekends are filled with long bike rides? Maybe you and your children learn new recipes? Maybe Sundays are filled with a puzzle on the kitchen table (hello fine motor skills!). Putting down the electronic devices are helpful for kids AND adults.

4. Stay connected. Take time to stay connected with others (for your children and your adult friends). At the beginning of the week, set your schedule for who you would like to engage with. Maybe it is a drive-by visit to a friend or family member? Maybe it is a virtual play date? Maybe it is a virtual sleepover? Or a social distanced picnic?

5. Incorporate academic time. Kids are upset with me right now by suggesting this! No, not like the school year. Build academic learning into your day. If you are teaching reading, label items around the house with sight words. Use money to help with math. Incorporate science activities to help with sensory needs (you know you love slime)! We love Outschool (! There are online classes for children 3-18. Type in an interest your child has, and find the lesson online. Some of the classes are a one-time lesson. Some are daily for a few weeks. Some of our favorites that we have seen are:

· Harry Potter: Astrology, Astronomy, and Mythology

· Nour from Nature: Cooking with Nour Bahgat

· Thinking Like A Spy: Mastering Puzzles and Riddles

· How to Draw: Super Cute Pets

6. Get help. If you are reading this, you may be a client of Mighty Oaks, or your child is, but maybe not. The last few months have been a whirlwind for most families, and everyone has been doing their best to stay afloat. Most families haven’t processed how the coronavirus has impacted their mental health and will continue to do so. Take some time over the summer to check in on your mental health and seek support for you and your child if you need it. It could be anything from helping you to manage your child’s behavior at home to helping manage your child’s worries and fears.

Many of us are grieving our vacations that have been planned, or other summer activities. Can you have a vacation in your living room, or in your backyard? Maybe you planned to go to an amusement park? What foods would you eat there? Maybe the boxes piled up in your garage from online ordering (no, just us?), can be made into a “rollercoaster” or a slide? Maybe you go camping in the living room or backyard? Be creative and involve your children in the process! Allow them to be in charge of part of the experience. Think outside the (Amazon) box.

Remember, your children are also missing out on the sensory input they get at school and at camp (PE, art, recess, etc.). Maybe there need to be more sensory items in your home at this time, to help us fulfill that need. Our favorite local sensory store is Stacy’s Sensory Solutions, here in Plano: The weighted racoon in my office is from Sootheze, and they are currently creating a new weighted dog buddy. Plus, they have a discount code for 25% right now:

We hear the phrase, “We are all in this together”. This is not to say we are all experiencing the same hardships, but collectively, we are navigating our current situation and all trying to deal. This isn’t the new normal and things won’t go “back to normal”, because our world has already changed so much. So, I leave you with this: When looking back on this time, what do you want to remember? Did you learn to communicate more? Did you take care of your health in a different way? Did you learn sometime new? Did you experience gratitude? We are here to help you navigate it all, and are thankful we have the ability to do just that. Stay safe and well.

With love,

Dr. Sarah

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