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Parenting during a pandemic summer has been a challenge for most of us with children at home, as the world has been rapidly changing. “Normal” doesn’t feel very normal and many of the go-to activities and entertainment aren’t options this summer. Many parents have found themselves working from home alongside their children – first during at-home schooling this spring and now during a summertime redefined by COVID-19. Parents are experiencing more distractions and a different definition of productivity while simultaneously attempting to provide fun activities for their children, whose routines have been upended. With another month before most Mesa County kids return to school, we offer some ideas to balance summer fun with the reality of parenting during a pandemic.

Create a summer bucket list with your kids 

With so many COVID-19 closures and cancellations, the summer of 2020 looks much different than the break many children have come to love and expect. By creating a small and realistic bucket list with your kids, you can generate excitement for the season while still managing their expectations in the context of COVID. It can be as simple as sitting down with them and writing out their top 10 list of what they are looking forward to or what they would still like to do this summer. 

But don’t stop there. Talk through each idea to make sure it’s doable. Their ideas might include going on a hike, planning a coffee date with dad or grandma, playing catch, having a backyard campout in the tent, or going for a bike ride. But they might also suggest a pool party or a big BBQ with all of their friends, activities that are difficult to do safely during COVD-19. Gently explain why those aren’t options this year and encourage them to think of appealing alternatives. 

This bucket list can be a helpful tool to keep the fun in a summer unlike any other, and to thoughtfully spend time together doing something that’s memorable for everyone. Give it a try!

Stick to a routine 

Routine and summertime don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, but consistency is important for kids –  to stay on track with sleep, keep their emotions regulated, and transition back to school in fall. Especially right now, when the world feels upside down, schedule is one thing that can help keep them grounded and give them a sense of security. However, it can be tricky deciding what elements of a routine to hold onto in the summer and what to let slide. 

If your children are younger, a normal bedtime routine may be just the thing they need every day, starting with a bath, then a book, a kiss and ending with lights out. If your kids are preschool age through elementary school, you might need a midday break just as much as they do. Have them take a stack of books to their bed every afternoon and either read to themselves or take a picture walk (paging through a book for the pictures, rather than the words) for 30 minutes. If your kids are older and their internal clock has started to change, meaning they stay up later and wake up later, try implementing a routine in the form of tangible to-dos like exercising and showering every day. Eating dinner together daily is another routine many families have successfully embraced during  “safer at home.” 

Effective routines come in many shapes and sizes; these examples are merely ideas to get you thinking. Decide what routine makes the most sense for your family this summer and stick to it as much as possible.

Give yourself a boost of dopamine

Because everyone is home more and together in close proximity, hard days are to be expected. Try these tricks to boost your levels of dopamine, the naturally occurring hormone responsible for creating feelings of pleasure and improving mood: 

  • Trick 1: Exercise. If you don’t have time to hit the gym, take the kids on a walk, a hike, or a bike ride. 
  • Trick 2: Get plenty of sleep. Regular, high-quality sleep helps regulate dopamine. 
  • Trick 3: Listen to music. Music is proven to stimulate the pleasure sensors in your brain. 

Combine trick one and three and hold a mini dance party in your kitchen, followed by trick two – a good night’s sleep. You’ll get exercise, have fun with your kids, and boost your dopamine to pull you through the rough patch.

Limit screen time 

We hear your deep sigh, because most of us have leaned on television and tablets to find moments of respite to get work done or take a breather. The general rule of thumb is to limit screen time to one hour a day for children ages 2-5 years old. No more than 2.5 hours per day (about the equivalent of a movie) is a reasonable expectation for older kids. Be aware of the content your kids are watching or the rating of the game they’re playing – Common Sense Media offers age-appropriate reviews of movies, TV, books, apps and games, giving parents insight into what may or may not be a good fit for their children. Make sure, too, that kids are not sleeping with or charging their phones or tablets in their bedrooms, which can interfere with sleep patterns. 

Although electronics and technology can be a welcome escape, they should be used in moderation. Too much screen time puts children at greater risk for obesity and fewer minutes of sleep per night, and leaves less time in the day for imaginative, unstructured play, which has numerous positive effects.

Create small goals and celebrate your success 

Ever heard the saying, “small wins lead to big wins”? Creating small, incremental goals and celebrating when you or your kids achieve them gives you a chance to incentivize good habits while also accomplishing some chores around the house.  An example of this might be asking your kids to make their bed every morning. When everyone in your home does it for a week, celebrate by making a pancake breakfast with whipped cream and sprinkles.  

Do you expect your children to do a small daily list of chores like unload the dishwasher, feed the cat, and brush their teeth? If they’re older and long ago mastered toothbrushing, what about asking them to plan meals, create a grocery shopping list, and prepare dinner once or twice a week? Just don’t forget to celebrate their accomplishments —and yours too, for that matter— in a way that works for your family so these new goals turn into positive habits and big wins.