This pandemic has been a significant challenge to all of us. It has affected the safety and well-being of our loved ones, disrupted our jobs and regular activities, and altered how we interact with others. For most of us, there has never been a time in our lives like this, and the effects of the pandemic have impacted the lives of people across the globe. It is incredibly difficult for adults to make sense of these circumstances, let alone children.
For any of you who are feeling overwhelmed or uncertain about how to break this sad news to your child, we hear you. John Tilley made a video specifically for campers that shares the news of Camp closing. If you find them useful, you can use the points below to help you gather your thoughts before you speak with your camper.
Just as we want to ensure that our campers are able to cope during these difficult times, we also want our parents to take good care of themselves. Below are some self-care strategies that may benefit both you and your children.
Sure, it may seem simple, but did you know that when we slow down our breathing it helps us lower our heart rate and calm our nervous system? Try inhaling for 5 seconds with your nose, holding for 3 seconds, and then exhaling for 5 seconds with your mouth. This strategy can be particularly helpful to walk through with your child if they are feeling upset. You can even try sitting in front of your child and mirror the breathing exercise with them for a few minutes.
Find a buddy and check-in daily.
Just as we would encourage campers to reach out to fellow campers and staff members, there are benefits of parents doing the same. Whether that’s a fellow camp parent, a friend, or a workout buddy – it’s useful to identify someone who is facing similar challenges to you and to check-in daily. While social distancing is essential to slowing this pandemic, having a connection to others is key to our mental health. These check-ins can be very brief and also can be a helpful reminder that you are not alone.
Exercise daily – even if just for a few minutes.
Exercise is key to our mental and physical health. Your child would be getting a lot of exercise at summer camp. Though at home we don’t have nearly the same resources as we would have at a summer camp, consider ways to incorporate exercise – even if just for a few minutes. This can be as short as a 10-minute walk during a lunch break or after dinner while you check-in with a friend or your child. Still feel pressed for time while working? Consider stretching at your work desk or with your child before bedtime.
Practicing healthy eating habits as best as possible.
Stay hydrated as much as you can by drinking lots of water and limiting sugary and caffeinated beverages. These tactics can actually improve our energy, despite the reduced caffeine intake! Challenges like low stock items at stores and needing to minimize the number of times we go out shopping can make accessing healthy foods that keep our energy up difficult. Try planning meals in advance as much as possible. Ask your child if they were looking forward to any particular meals at Camp this summer. Is there a way to incorporate some of these comforting foods into your family’s meal plan?
Practice healthy sleeping habits as best as possible.
Have you ever heard of something called “sleep hygiene?” It means maintaining a healthy, relaxing routine before getting ready for bed. Simple behaviors might include breathing or stretching exercises as mentioned above, a short walk, or a warm shower before bed. Certain scents, like lavender, can also help put us in a calm, relaxing mood. Good sleep hygiene also limits electronic use like television and cell phones before bedtime. The goal is to make our bedroom a stress-free zone, used primarily for relaxation and sleep. At Camp, campers get great practice with sleep hygiene as they don’t have access to phones or television. They also participate in a winddown routine each night before bed, called “Highs and Lows” where they say their low of the day followed by their high of the day. Your child may appreciate some of these familiar behaviors before bed – we think you might as well!
Pause. Be kind to yourself.
We are in the midst of a disaster and need to remember to take breaks for ourselves and our loved ones. These times are incredibly trying. Naturally, you may feel a sense of loss as routines are severely interrupted and celebrations are getting canceled. Kindness towards yourself and others is key to maintaining our health.
We have included a sample of what a conversation could look like below. This is only an example, so please do what feels right for your family. Being available to support your child is far more important than getting the words “just right”.
“Hi [child’s name], do you have a few minutes? There’s something I’d really like to chat with you about.”
If your child is preoccupied (e.g., in between Zoom classes for school or about to phone a friend): “Let’s find time in a little bit that we can chat. How does 1 PM sound?”
If your child is able to meet, or once a meeting time has been established, ensure that distractions (e.g., television, phone) are removed from the environment or are at a minimum to have your child’s undivided attention.
“As you know, there have been a lot of difficult changes over the past few months. It makes me really sad to share with you more unfortunate news about another change of events. This summer, in order to keep you and all of the other campers and staff safe, Coniston will not be running Camp this summer. I am so sorry to have to break this news to you.”
Some possible reactions from your child and follow-up statements you can make:
If your child becomes quiet, it can be effective to ask some questions so they can process this news. Consider asking things such as:
“What’s going through your mind right now?”
“How do you feel about this?”
“How do you think the other campers feel about this?
“How do you think the counselors feel about this?”
“What activity were you looking forward to the most this summer?”
“How might we be able to figure out a way to do some of these at home as a family?”
If your child becomes angry or sad, it’s helpful to validate these feelings. For example:
“I know you’re upset, and you have every right to be. I know how much you were looking forward to this and this situation is so difficult.”
If your child has attended Coniston previously, it might be helpful to offer the following:
“Do you think it would be helpful to reach out to your fellow campers or counselors? We can get their contact information from our Camp calendar. It might be nice to connect since they’re going through something similar.”
Example of a closing statement:
“I’m really glad we were able to chat. This was tough for me to share with you, and even more difficult for you to hear the news. The Coniston community is continuing to have various virtual gatherings, such as vespers and highs and lows. Maybe there are certain traditions that we can start here this summer to bring some of that Coniston spirit to our lives – like singing a favorite Camp song or making a Coniston favorite meal. Let me know how I might be able to help make that possible.”
While we won’t be together physically this summer, we are confident that the Coniston spirit will continue to live on. Please know that you and your children are not alone. The Coniston community is here for you. We will get through this together with love, compassion, and care for one another. We look forward to the day when our entire Coniston community can be reunited with each other in person.
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