Summer is usually a time filled with much-needed relaxing, visiting friends, leisuring by the pool and going to camp. But the stressors and restrictions brought on by COVID-19 have made this year unusually taxing. Now, as some regulations have loosened and more individuals have been vaccinated, caregivers and kids are thinking about how to reenter social and group activities.
For everyone out of practice due to COVID-19, this can feel a little daunting. For some, an added layer of anxiety makes it overwhelming, too. Children and teenagers who have been home more and out of the social scene may be grappling with everyday activities that are suddenly new again — separating from their parents, being with a lot of people and trying new activities.
Here are some tips on how to “brave through the bellyaches” — how to support your anxious child through summer and beyond:
- Start by normalizing fears. If your child expresses worry about separating or going to camp, remember that anxiety is real and can be crippling to your child even if some of the fears seem minor. For example, if your child has been used to seeing you all the time, the idea of spending the day at camp may seem daunting. Even if you don’t quite understand their fears, normalize how they are feeling by saying, “starting camp for the first time can be scary,” or, “it's normal to feel nervous, you haven’t done anything social for a long time.”
- Empathize and validate. Your child needs to hear you express that you understand what they are going through. For example, they may say, “but I’ll miss you too much.” Lead with validation and say, “I am sure it will be difficult to miss me too much. That sounds hard.” Validate their fears first and telling them you understand lets your child know that you hear the concern and take it seriously.
- Express confidence in their ability to cope. Pair the validation with a statement that assures your child they can cope. It’s important to let your child know that they can do hard things, ESPECIALLY when they are scared. It’s reasonable to feel nervous and also stay in that situation. Say something like, “I know you are nervous to go to camp this summer. That’s ok. It’s ok to be scared and I know we will get through it.”
- Start small. If your child or teen hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to see friends or interact in large groups, remember that these experiences can be scary for them! Remind your child (and yourself) that overcoming the dread of confronting fearful situations takes a lot of practice, and the best way to start is by working on addressing ONE situation a bunch of times. For example, if your child has plans to go to sleepaway camp this summer but hasn’t had a sleepover in a year, practice having sleepovers now.
- Plan ahead. It’s never too early to look ahead and establish regular bravery practices. School will start again in the fall, and you can prepare over the summer by engaging opportunities where you separate from your child, connecting them to groups of peers and even getting bedtime routines back on track. Plan playdates with peers who are in your child’s grade or class. If your child needs more contact at bedtime due to nighttime fears, start addressing that now by sitting in your child’s doorway at bedtime (rather than in the bed) or checking on them frequently if they get out of bed often. Laying the foundation for these practices can set the stage for success.
- Provide “the right” choices. It’s great to give your child options, but first consider which options you provide. If you ask, “Do you want to start doing playdates or just play with your sister,” you might get an answer, but it might not be the one you hoped for. Instead say, “I’m excited that we can schedule some playdates again. Should we invite Susie, Charlie or someone else?” This allows your child to give their opinion without opting out of the opportunity. If your child is hesitant to separate from you, don’t ask, “Should I go run an errand?” Rather, say, “I am going to run an errand. Do you want to read or play a game with your sitter while I am out?”
- Consider Bravery Bootcamp. This August, CBC is running a five-day, virtual Bravery Bootcamp to help tweens face fears and feel less anxious. Bravery Bootcamp is an intensive, exposure-based therapy for children with a variety of anxiety and related disorders to help them manage anxiety and cope. Consider Bravery Bootcamp if your child is between the ages of 8-12 and would benefit from support in addressing their fears about doing or reentering activities, including returning to school.