By Dr. Sarah Haas *
Last year I wrote a post about how to best coordinate summer activities that may be most fun & helpful for children with ADHD or anxiety (see it here: https://www.centerforactiveminds.com/post/summer-activities-for-kids). This post included two recommendations that may be most beneficial for children with ADHD and anxiety: outdoor activities and structured activities.
Of course, in the face of the recent pandemic, these suggested activities need to be updated. Some activities that often involve large gatherings of folks may not yet be open. Your child's summer camp may also not be an option this year. So at it's core, the summer activities may just look different (as parents, the best skill we have to is learn how to pivot on a moment's notice!).
However, we also have to keep in mind that our children have had their lives pretty drastically change over the past 4 months or so. In light of those changes our children had to endure, making some adjustments to their summer plans may be helpful to their development.
Engage in Social Activities.
Of course, this may be an obvious one. School teaches children academic skills, but it also provides an excellent opportunity for children to socialize with children their own age. And due to the need for social distancing during the pandemic, children have likely had less opportunities to play with their friends. We know from research that having good friendships is really important to a child's mental health (Mikami, 2010), and that children with ADHD in particular may need more social experiences to help them develop better social skills (Hoza, 2007).
Outdoor social activities my be most helpful in that outdoor activities may reduce temporary anxiety symptoms and also has less rules associated with it than indoor activities (e.g., no running in the house, no shouting inside), allowing children to get in trouble less and potentially boost their self-esteem. Furthermore, outdoor activities may be preferred to indoor activities given the CDC recommendations on decreasing transmission of COVID-19. You may want to check keep an eye out for various local outdoor programs offered in Lancaster County here: https://co.lancaster.pa.us/305/Organized-Group-Programs.
In particular, engaging in sports activities may be greatly beneficial for children in the summer of 2020 - whether this involves a one-on-one with a sibling, or involves playing on a team (if these activities resume soon!). Children with better sports skills may also experience better friendships given research suggesting that children with poor sports skills have a hard time making friends (Bigelow, Lewko, & Salhani, 1989). In addition, being on a sports team or playing intramural sports can naturally foster friendships in that it comprises the following qualities: (1) the team is together often, (2) there is a shared interest among team members, (3) the team shares a common goal.
For children with anxiety, swimming may be a fun and useful team sport activity given that it teaches effective and appropriate breathing. This way, children may be more able to engage in deep breathing when feeling anxious in other situations as this type of breath work can be taught in swimming activities.
As a parent, you need to determine what types of social interactions you are comfortable with for your child in the age of COVID-19. If you are not comfortable with your child being around other same-aged peers, consider things like setting up playdates with their siblings, talking with friends on the phone, or speaking with friends virtually to help enforce social skills and maintain friendships.
Engage in Academic Activities.
I think we all agree that learning virtually is simply different than learning in the classroom. Some children, for example children who experience anxiety in social situations, virtual learning may have allowed them to escape their anxiety for a period of time. For other children, children with shorter attention spans and /or learning difficulties, they may have fallen behind academically during this time. Thus, finding tutoring or summer academic skill building opportunities may be helpful! For example, Kumon offers Math help and Lancaster Reaching Solutions offers Reading help.
Talk and Teach about Racism.
In light of current events, and more specifically the death of George Floyd, you may have seen an increase in information about White Privilege and Racism. Spending some time this summer to talk with your child about current events and helping your child navigate this process may help create societal change and decrease confusion for your child. If you are a White parent, you may want to educate yourself about White privilege (or privilege in general, like with this demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyl4EJhq47A&fbclid=IwAR1PxgaJyIzrwvo_qEMOCgu5EntSXsZy5cuE2PIPYdQr42nALZ0wLsM9R6s&app=desktop) to help guide your conversations with your child(ren). Some resources to get you started may include: a 1 minute intro about White privilege https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yrg7vV4a5o&fbclid=IwAR3UngY1wENcitTJTqXKAtnS-C0Z7hwI42HHfVWd4hI2L-s1Zy2J_KPv8Oc, https://onbeing.org/blog/what-i-said-when-my-white-friend-asked-for-my-black-opinion-on-white-privilege/, and https://humanparts.medium.com/reflections-from-a-token-black-friend-2f1ea522d42d.
You may also want to understand the difference between overt and covert racism, and how racism is maintained in society to better be able to identify how to be more race-conscious. Some resources could include: this pyramid https://radicaldiscipleship.net/2017/07/05/white-supremacy-overt-covert/, this video on racism and geographic locations https://www.facebook.com/inthenow/videos/258516312255215/UzpfSTEwMDAwMDQ0MDQ5NjE2OTozMzIwMjA2MDQ0NjcwNzEz/.
How to talk to your child(ren) about racism and skin color, which may include resources like these: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxJcqPUA53w, https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/06/app-news-section/cnn-sesame-street-race-town-hall-app-june-6-2020-app/index.html which includes a video to the Sesame Street Town Hall, This TED talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?fbclid=IwAR0_cLLef3WIAE6N4Dfkbz3j3fSrmONtrTCH8clhksrDtDuYFcsaBItCb5o&v=l_TFaS3KW6s&app=desktop, https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/family-resources-education/700childrens/2020/06/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-racism?fbclid=IwAR0FDBDC8HAa8OBgqu9da8mGq-6noooZoov03p8SbuPfv7XLA4Gq_SrVeOc, and the "Resources: link on this page may be most helpful for parents of minority children who are concerned about ADHD in their child https://joelniggphd.com/race-and-adhd-2/?fbclid=IwAR0LFXgtEFedVJzNaG95_6c-dBww72pGcvpMweoaJCeqE2vE6fF3_bja944.
You may also want to inform yourself about how White Supremacy groups attempt to recruit young White teens, and this article describes one method: https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/22/us/california-mother-warning-white-supremacists-soh/index.html.
And some overall resources on racism, including: this overview of what to say and how to talk with your children about racism http://www.raceconscious.org/2016/06/100-race-conscious-things-to-say-to-your-child-to-advance-racial-justice/ or by accessing books at your local library or following recommendations from your local library like this: https://www.instagram.com/p/CA55Z04jOe4/.
If you are looking to take change create action now, consider donating money to local charities on the front lines of addressing racism, purchasing baby dolls of various skin colors for your child to play with, or attending educational workshops like this: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/raising-antiracist-kids-ibram-x-kendi-with-derecka-purnell-tickets-107620969216
It's the summertime. The academic school year is over, and *what* an academic school year 2020 was in particular! Summertime evokes a sense of relaxation and a break from the grind of the academic year for children. For children who struggle academically, experience anxiety around friends their age or around academic performance, or those who struggle paying attention or sitting still in class, the excitement experienced when the academic year is over is unexplainable. As parents, we don't like to see our children stressed or struggling, so we too may be inclined to allow our kids to take it easy over the summer and do nothing but focus on being a kid, as a way to take a break from the grueling academic year. Also, the issues of the academic classroom are often much less visible over summer break, so it seems intuitive to not need to address issues that are not there right now!
In this light, it can be easy to not consider engaging in therapy over the summer. However, one huge benefit to having children who struggle in the academic setting--whether it be with symptoms of ADHD or anxiety or learning--is that it allows for a better context for the child to implement new skills for the academic year. To understand this idea, I like to break down the goal of therapy into two main components: Learning and Using new skills.
Learning new skills takes cognitive energy! Think about how exhausted you are when taking a class to learn a new skill or hobby, or the first week of learning a new job! Did you sleep more when you started learning something new? Did you feel more mentally and/or physically exhausted when you were learning the boundaries of your new job? Were you also making other changes, like moving into a new house or apartment, or having children while learning new information? When I ask folks about this, often they suggest that learning new information is tiring and requires a lot of cognitive energy.
Once a new idea or skill is learned, then the focus becomes using that new idea or skill so that it becomes habitual, or something that requires much less focus and energy to do. This often takes a lot of practice & time, as well as potentially some trial-and-error events to really get a good at using your new skill. When you are a few weeks into your new job, did you make a lot of errors? Did it take you a long time to do something that now, after lots of practice, you can do more quickly? How long did it take you to use your new skill efficiently so that you don't have to think so much when you do it now?
Then, once using this new skill becomes habitual, it becomes something akin to the saying, "it's just like riding a bike". It is something that is relatively engrained, ready to be used because you spent all of that time and energy developing it! Hooray!
However, when we are stressed out or overwhelmed, we can become physically and mentally exhausted. Because of this, we tend to fall back onto our habits whenever we can. Using old habits allows our brain to conserve energy to focus our attention towards the things that are most stressful. This also means it encourages to use of behaviors and thoughts that are most familiar to us, whether they are good or bad. Ever have a tragic incident happen after being a few weeks or a few months into a new job? Sometimes we experience something called regression where we go back to using our old skills and not the new ones we were practicing. This is the exact reason why we can fall back on doing behaviors (or engaging in thoughts) that we know aren't helpful for us so easily (even if we don't want to): Because they are familiar and thus easy to do! This is also why we, as humans, do not effectively make lots of drastic changes at one time. Making one change is a lot of work and requires a lot of cognitive effort to learn and build a new skill.
You likely already know this, at least subconsciously. Let's walk through an example where you may have used this knowledge: How did you potty train your child? Did you do this when there was a lot of changes happening around you and your child? Did you do it right before you traveled or took a road trip? It's most likely you potty trained your kiddo when most other things in yours and their life were stable and predictable. In this way, potty training can be done more quickly and efficiently because you can focus all of your energy on doing it. Did you experience a major or minor stressor during potty training, for example, the birth of a sibling, moving to a new apartment, or starting a new job? If so, did you feel like this negatively impacted the progress on your child's newly learned or in-progress learning to use the potty? I'd be so.
So in order for us to make the quickest most meaningful changes to our lives, other areas of our lives need to be calm, stable, and predictable. When we experience stressors or anxiety, our contexts tend to be the exact opposite of that - they can be jarring, unstable, and unpredictable.
So how does this apply to children engaging in therapy over the summertime? Oftentimes, the summertime offers us the most calm, stable, and predictable times our children will experience during any given year. This means it may provide children the best opportunity to learn and use new skills that are the most likely to be used during the academic school year than if therapy was started at any other time during the year. Starting therapy about one month prior to the academic year might help teach a child new skills, however, it may not be long enough to help children be able to use those skills effectively during the academic year. That is, if a child experiences anxiety in the classroom, they are more likely to rely on old habits to deal with or avoid the anxiety, and are less apt to use skills that are not well practiced yet (like how to effectively manage the anxiety). Thus, the summer is a time when children are often less stressed, which provides them with a great opportunity to learn new skills and create new habits, which in turn can help children better implement those new skills once the new academic year rolls around.
If you are considering therapy for your child or teen, here are some resources about how to talk to your child about therapy: https://www.centerforactiveminds.com/post/how-do-i-talk-to-my-child-about-therapy and how to talk to your teen about therapy: https://www.centerforactiveminds.com/post/teens-and-therapy
If you are interested in scheduling a consultation appointment to see if services provided through the Center For Active Minds is right for you and your family, please call us at 717-879-9797 or email us at DrSarah@CenterForActiveMinds.com. If you'd like to learn more about our services, check out information provided here: https://www.centerforactiveminds.com/our-promise-to-you.
Disclaimer: The Information provided through this website, including the various pages, blog posts, and emails, are designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute a client/therapist relationship. The information is not intended to replace medical advice or mental health treatment. Every individual person's situation is unique. Please seek out individual care if needed.