Dr. Rachel Kramer
December 13: "We've done every project on the internet"
This week a parent of a preschooler said to me, “I feel like we’ve already done every craft project on the internet.” To me, that comment encapsulates so much about the moment in time we are experiencing right now. In a word, many people are simply exhausted. Parents (and many children) are experiencing anxiety and worry about the surge in the pandemic, sadness over the losses we have all experienced, feelings of loneliness and isolation as we embark on a holiday season in which many people will be separated from loved ones, and deep fatigue and weariness as the pandemic stretches into its 9th month. I hesitated to write that last sentence, but part of the reason I’m putting this into words is that I want parents to know that they are not alone in feeling overwhelmed. Parenting during the pandemic is an incredibly daunting and exhausting experience, and I think it helps, at least a little bit, to know parents everywhere are struggling with how to cope with these chaotic and uncertain times.
As we look ahead to school vacation week, I have a few tips to offer:
If you have preschool or elementary school aged children, consider using a white board to outline a simple schedule each day of vacation week. This does not need to be a strict, hour-by-hour schedule (unless you want it to be). Rather, you could list meal times and then outline one or two activities that will be happening between each meal. By giving children this information, you are providing structure, increasing predictability, and making it clear when there are times of day when children get to choose the activity (play time or choice time).
If you have teenagers at home, at the beginning of vacation week I recommend outlining the activities that will need to happen each day. For example, waking up by a certain time, getting some exercise, helping out at home, and spending time with family. In addition, provide clear information about screen time rules. Once you have communicated about these non-negotiables, allow your teenager some independence and flexibility in organizing their days.
Try to plan one thing to look forward to on each day of vacation, particularly if people are feeling sad about favorite traditions that won’t be able to happen this year. Try to brainstorm together with your child(ren) to develop a list that includes some ideas from each family member. You might say, “I know the menu of fun things to do is smaller this year, but I think if we all work together we can come up with an activity to look forward to for each day of school vacation.” Some low-key options might include a baking project, taking a winter hike or walk, making holiday slime, star gazing, watching home videos, or making paper snowflakes.
If you or someone in your household feels overwhelmed by a negative outlook one day, try to pause once every hour and find one positive thing happening right at that moment. If needed, set a reminder on your phone to hold yourself accountable.
This holiday season will feel very different from all of the years past. In addition to acknowledging the sadness related to everything that can’t happen, I encourage you to look for small moments of joy and to remind your family, “This is really hard, and as a family, we can do hard things. We’re going to stick together and do our best each day.”