The pandemic has taken a devastating toll on our children. Experts say that most children fall behind either socially, emotionally, or educationally. School absenteeism is increasing and there are many behavioral and mental health problems in children.
Research confirms this. A study by the Brookings Institute found that test scores in math and reading have fallen significantly over the duration of the pandemic, comparably worse than children during other school disruptions such as after Hurricane Katrina. And in the later years of the pandemic, the numbers got worse, not better. Other research has shown that children struggle with their mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 children today suffer from a mental disorder such as anxiety, depression or an eating disorder.
But for all the doom and gloom of the past three years, summer offers parents the opportunity to help their children regain some of the skills they’ve lost. Experts claim there is much parents can do to help build math and reading skills during the summer months, while encouraging children’s social and emotional learning and creating a mental health haven at home.
Here are four ways parents can support their child’s social, emotional, and learning development this summer.
Avoid the summer slide
A large body of research shows that the effects of summer learning loss can build up over the years and permanently stagnate a child’s ability to catch up, says Kathleen Lynch, Ed.D., associate professor of learning sciences at the University of Connecticut . Some research has even found that disparities in a child’s summer experience are linked to educational achievements, such as graduating from high school or college, she adds.
“It’s important to remember that your child doesn’t necessarily have to make up for summer learning losses in the next school year,” says Lynch.
Summertime educational opportunities make a world of difference, and they don’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. For example, parents can help kids find math in everyday activities like converting measurements while baking, calculating discounts at the store, or calculating sports stats while watching a big game, Lynch says. Some card and board games also involve math skills, and kids won’t even realize they’re learning.
The best thing parents can do to support summer learning is to participate in summer reading programs at the school and local library, Lynch says. “Giving children access to a supply of books they are interested in, whether purchased or from the library, has been shown to improve children’s reading skills.”
When children don’t want to read, encourage them with books about things they love. From outer space to dinosaurs to monster trucks, when children are interested in the subject, they are more likely to open a book. Additionally, kids love contests, so it’s another carrot to sign your child up for a summer reading contest, where they’ll get prizes for reading the most books to get them started.
Avoid “rescue mode”.
Children generally experienced a period of isolation through quarantine, social distancing, mask requirements or virtual learning. This summer is the perfect opportunity to bridge those social gaps, says family therapist and emotional learning expert Kelly Oriard.
But as the kids socialize this summer, Oriard warns parents not to always jump into “rescue mode” when they realize their child is having a social problem, but to help the kids solve their own problems. “Asking your child to explain the situation and how they’re feeling not only gives them space to think and problem-solve, but it also helps them trust their inner voice when something is feeling uncomfortable,” she says.
In moments of heightened emotion, she says, show your understanding. For example: “I see that you are very angry and frustrated that we have to leave the park. I know it can be hard to walk away somewhere when you’re having fun, but we can’t scream when we’re frustrated.”
Finding ways for your child to socialize is very important in the summer, Oriard says, especially after children have lost so much of that during the pandemic. But it doesn’t have to be expensive. While preschool, daycare, camps, or karate can make a world of difference, so does the local library, local youth programs like the YMCA or The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, or even visiting the playground. “These shared experiences can help even the most anxious child open up,” she says.
Help process their emotions
When you realize your children are struggling, it’s important to give them permission to feel, says family therapist David Kalergis, founder and owner of Lowcountry Family & Children. “Our children have done nothing wrong. They are the victims of circumstance and parents need to remember that,” he says.
According to Kalergis, the most important thing parents can do is remind children that while they are allowed to feel, they are not allowed to act on those feelings.
“All feelings are allowed, but not all behaviors,” he says. “I tell my daughter she can be so frustrated with me that she wants to pick up the coffee mug and smash it against the wall. But she can’t pick up that coffee cup and smash it against the wall.”
Parents should teach their children to express their feelings clearly and concisely, says Oriard. For example, if your child isn’t a fan of hugs from friends and family, teach them to be clear while offering an alternative. For example, you can say, “I’m not a fan of hugs, but I love high fives and fist bumps.”
Parents can also use the summer to teach the importance of empathy. You can’t expect your child to be empathetic if you aren’t. “When we can regulate our emotional responses and remain calm in the midst of chaos, we not only model regulation, we provide a safe landing pad,” says Oriard.
Rebuild family connections
Recent years have created a huge disconnect between parents and children, Kalergis says, as parents have tried to work and care for their children at the same time. For this reason, summer should be a time to rebuild family relationships.
Using summer to build family rituals can give children a sense of belonging so they don’t feel so isolated during difficult times. Try something as simple as “Saturday Flipped Breakfast,” which allows kids to eat their breakfast under the table one day a week. Tuesday can be taco night, or you can have sundaes on Sunday.
Other family relationship building ideas include an adventure jar that kids can put their favorite adventure ideas in, such as: B. Camping in the garden or looking for shells. Parents can also consider making a gratitude jar where they write down when their child has done something great and then read all the good things out loud to their children at the end of the week. “It’s all about making time, doing things together, and having an adventurous spirit,” says Kalergis.
In the end, he says, it’s important to remember that kids are resilient and parents often do a far better job than they give themselves credit for. So, in those moments when you lose it, don’t beat yourself up. Be honest with your child about your mistake and apologize. “Kids need to know it’s okay to make mistakes and the most important thing is that we learn from them and move on.”