By OSRUI Camp Care Director Debbie Locketz, MSW, LICSW
As we all try to settle into what the “new normal” looks like, we wanted to reach out to you, our camper parents. When we began to plan our staff week training, it occurred to me that a lot of the teaching we use to train our staff could be applied to parenting our kids during this unpredictable time.
During staff week, we talk a lot about what having good self-care looks like throughout the summer. Managing good self-care right now is important for you as a parent, but also for your kids. Dr. Dan Siegel talks about seven essential mental activities to do daily in order to optimize brain matter and create well-being.
- Focus time: When we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, we take on challenges that make deep connections in the brain.
- Play Time: When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, we help make new connections in the brain.
- Connecting Time: When we connect with other people, ideally in person, and when we take time to appreciate our connection to the natural world around us, we activate and reinforce the brain’s relational circuitry.
- Physical Time: When we move our bodies, aerobically if medically possible, we strengthen the brain in many ways.
- Time In: When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, we help to better integrate the brain.
- Down Time: When we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, we help the brain recharge.
- Sleep Time: When we give the brain the rest it needs, we consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day.
As a parent this list of seven areas has helped me regulate my own schedule. Although we don’t need to do each of these the same amount every day, we can also use these seven different opportunities with our kids to make sure they are getting everything they need each day. If we are able to use them to regulate ourselves, in turn we will continue to nourish and provide good self care for ourselves and our children.
In the past eight weeks almost everything has changed for us and our kids. During a summer at camp, we also have those days that we can plan for and then have to pivot our plans when things change either due to weather or other reasons. Our entire OSRUI family, parents and campers alike, have faced unprecedented change over the past several weeks. Change in plans, schedules, and routine trigger different forms of anxiety. Psychologist Lisa Damour offers five ways to help manage anxiety:
- Normalize the anxiety – some anxiety, especially now, can be healthy
- Offer some perspective – We can help adolescents keep their worries about the coronavirus at a manageable level by making sure they understand what is going on at an age appropriate level.
- Shift the spotlight – Studies have shown that in difficult times people feel better when they can turn their attention to supporting others. By reminding our kids why we are washing hands (so that we don’t get sick, but also so that we don’t provide a strain on our medical system) we can continue to educate our kids on why we do the things we are doing.
- Encourage distractions – By doing homework, going outside for a walk, bike ride or playing a game as a family you can help decrease anxiety or the uncertainty in their lives.
- Manage your own anxiety – Kids can tell when adults are saying one thing and feeling another. Offering reassuring words won’t do much good when our own anxiety is riding high.
Resist the Need to Fix – be Present and Just Listen
During staff week each summer we run a training for our staff on how to practice validating camper feelings. It is so important for kids to feel listened to. As parents, our natural tendencies are to fix any situation when someone we care about seems to need help. We want to make them feel better. However, sometimes when we are in the “fix it” mode, we aren’t being present for what the other person truly needs in that moment. When we try to “fix it” we often do more talking than listening. Just being present for our kids right now can be such a powerful event.
An example of a fix-it vs. assist-it moment:
Child: “I miss seeing my friends, It is so hard.”
Fix-it parent: “Why don’t you just text or facetime your friend, it is almost the same thing.”
Assist-it parent:“ I am sorry you feel sad about missing your friends. I know this is really hard right now and I am here to listen to you.”
By validating emotions first, we can have a more productive conversation with our children.
Choose Language Wisely
Another topic we teach during staff week is how to choose our language wisely. Here is a list of great things to say to your kids that help validate feelings:
- “I’m glad you told me.”
- “I want you to know I will do what I can to help you.”
- “I am sorry you’re feeling this way.”
- “I am on your side.”
- “I don’t know how you feel, because I am not you, but I want you to try and explain it to me so that I understand.”
During the summers we come together as one community at camp. During these past few weeks we have seen that community move online so that our kids and staff can continue to stay connected. Please know that even with all the uncertainty, we are still one community and are here to support you and your children.