The lockdowns have been brutal. Children lost their connections with friends and parents and have battled their own frustrations topped off by home schooling. And now we are heading into school holidays!
Our children have begun to feel this year some of the normality that school routine can give them, but further lockdowns, particularly in Victoria, and a constant sense of unease and anger felt by parents about border closures, cancelled celebrations and holiday plans continue to hurt them.
Many parents see these school holidays malignly as another interruption. But let’s turn them into a blessing!
Playdates mean building much needed connections
As our parents and grannies used to say “nothing worthwhile is easy” and so it still is today. So suggesting to tired parents that the next two weeks provide a great opportunity for play dates for all our children, will be met with exhausted groans. But we all know that connection with peers and friends is such a protective factor in keeping our children mentally healthy.
Covid has affected our children’s mental wellbeing. (For young people aged 15–24, the leading causes of total burden varied between males and females. Suicide and self-inflicted injuries were the leading cause of total burden among males, and anxiety disorders were the leading cause among females (Figure 1) (AIHW 2019a). This extract is from the Australian government site Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Although official data is not up to date, reports indicate that figures for mental health in children and adolescents have declined further over the past 18 months.)
Two weeks absence from seeing friends can be dramatic for some children who have had difficulty in returning to school and friends. They find friendships fragile, whether these actually are or a child perceives them to be.
Returning to school next term to hear that the one person with whom they want to be friends with is talking to another child about all the experiences they shared over the holidays, can be a real setback.
Being able to talk about shared experiences is very powerful for friendships. These might be a trip to the park or the movies, or simply playing at home and sharing sandwiches for lunch!
Shy children or sensitive children need their parents’ support to gently guide them through opportunities where they can mix with others.
Support your child through good organisation
Some tips: Organise the playdate. Before the friend arrives, have a discussion as to what they could do together. Set up some activities that might provide some support for your child so they are not floundering or becoming silent. You want them to feel some sense of being able to grow this relationship, at the same time you want the visiting child to have a relaxed time. Let’s hope they come again!
Have a discussion around what they could talk about. What questions your child could ask to open up conversations.
Something yummy for a snack, perhaps some cupcakes that you and child made would go down well. Everyone loves to eat – but mind out for allergies!!
The time arrives. You have set your child up so they can ease into the playdate with confidence.
Fingers crossed the last piece of the puzzle is positive: that the visiting friend is someone who will be happy to participate and not demanding or distracted! Often our children want to be friends with others that really are not suited to them, but it is all part of the learning process.
Think of the holidays as a positive time – it helps! A time when you spend time with your child and provide them with opportunities and experiences to share experiences with a friend.
When they return to school after two weeks, the ice will be broken as they will be able to share stories. What a gift you will have given your child.