Ask a Therapist: How Can I Help My Kids Recover From the Pandemic?

ask a therapist

Verywell / Catherine Song

In the “Ask a Therapist” series, I’ll be answering your questions about all things mental health and psychology. Whether you are struggling with a mental health condition, coping with anxiety about a life situation, or simply looking for a therapist's insight, submit a question. Look out for my answers to your questions every Friday in the Healthy Mind newsletter.

Our Reader Asks

"After losing an entire year of learning and activities due to the pandemic, I want to help my kids make up for lost time this summer. What are the most important things I can do to help them get caught up to where they should be?"

—Alyson, 41

Amy’s Answer

"While you might be tempted to help your kids 'make up for lost time,' cramming too much into their summer might not be helpful. Let them just have fun doing normal summertime activities, like riding their bikes, swimming, and going to camp. Having a chance to do 'normal kid things' could be the kindest thing you can do for them."

Keep Your Thoughts and Feelings In-Check

Spend a few minutes thinking about your own emotions after this year you’ve gone through this year. You’re probably feeling a lot of different emotions.

Think specifically about how you feel regarding your kids and your role as a parent. Are you sad for them that they’ve missed so much? Are you worried that they’re behind academically? Are you angry that they couldn’t see their grandparents? 

Labeling your emotions can help you make sense of them. And it can help you think about what you want for your kids this summer. Just don’t project your feelings onto your kids.

Although you feel like your kids lost a lot of time this year, they might not necessarily feel that way. Don’t tell them how awful it is that they had to miss out on school or other activities. You don’t want them to start feeling that way just because you told them that’s how they should feel.

On the flipside, don’t minimize the stress of this past year. If you have a child who is really upset that they couldn’t play soccer or that they missed out on going to the homecoming dance, validate their feelings even if you think they’re being a bit “dramatic.”

Ask Them How They’re Feeling

Sit down with your kids and reflect on their experiences during the pandemic. Ask questions like, “What was the hardest part about this year?” 

Talk about the positive things too. Ask them what they enjoyed about this year and let them know it’s OK to say they liked certain things even though the pandemic was hard on a lot of people.

Discuss how they’re feeling about the restrictions lifting. What are they most excited about? Are they worried about anything? Are there parts of the pandemic that they’re going to miss?

Let them talk openly about their feelings without inserting your own. Make it clear that whatever they feel is OK and it’s normal to experience a lot of different emotions at the same time.

Create Your Family’s Plan

Leave plenty of room for spontaneous activities this summer. But do plan some activities that reflect your family’s values.  

Talk to the kids about what they want to do. Whether you decide to see extended family or you agree to host a kid-friendly party, schedule some activities that will help things feel normal this summer.

Resist the urge to fill their schedules with sports, clubs, and organized activities that will keep them too busy. After all, we want them to have time to just be kids after the year they’ve gone through.

And a big part of that means exploring, playing, and having fun during their time away from school.

Find Teachable Moments

You’ll definitely have plenty of teachable moments over the summer. Whether you share how grateful you are to finally be able to attend a family gathering or you talk about how some families are likely to have different comfort levels regarding get-togethers, post-pandemic life is going to be filled with learning opportunities.

And while you might think this year caused kids to “miss out” on a lot, you might also remind yourself that they also gained a lot. They likely learned some valuable lessons about how the world works and how people can work together to address a problem.

With some guidance and support from you, they might move forward with more knowledge and skills than before. So rather than worry about “making up for lost time” focus on how your kids can emerge from the adversity they experienced feeling stronger and better equipped to handle whatever challenges life throws their way.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.