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3 Tips to Have a Safe and Social Summer This Year

3 Tips to Have a Safe and Social Summer This Year

Experts share how to be appropriately cautious when preparing for post-COVID summer fun.

One of the toughest parts of the pandemic for both parents and kids was not being able to socialize in person. In fact, a Pew Research Center report found that during the last year, the thing American adults missed most was their social routine. Kids were forced to socialize online—the number of messages they sent increased 144 percent in 2020. But now that infection numbers are down and many people are vaccinated, everyone is eager to return to a version of summer that feels close to our “normal” mask-less lives.

For parents, this means ensuring kids make up for lost time on the playground. “Play is the most powerful learning tool for children. The foundation of soft skills like communication, teamwork, adaptability, and leadership is primarily built through play in children’s formative years,” says Ariel Kornblum, Psy.D., clinical director of behavioral and educational services at Manhattan Psychology Group. 

RELATED: Download the Family Fun Guide for 100+ Things to Do This Summer

Unstructured playtime helps foster kids’ imagination and creativity, and it teaches them the coping skills required to navigate life; and strong attachments to both friends and family equip them for everyday challenges. This is true for parents, too. “Connecting to other parents is one of the hallmarks of surviving parenthood, and while this varies for every family, most [adults] rely on support from other parents for any and all challenges,” Dr. Kornblum says. 

How to Keep Kids Safe & Social This Summer

So how do we safely socialize this summer? We spoke to experts about the precautions we should take for group gatherings. 

Establish comfort levels with other parents.

Although the best course of action is to defer to state, local, and the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding masking, sanitizing, and social distancing, the first step toward normalcy is to decide what level of closeness is appropriate for your family. (This can be tough when our social habits have been disrupted by a trauma-filled year.) Younger kids will likely take longer to adjust to a pre-pandemic-style play, while older students with established friend groups and access to technology might have an easier time. Regardless of your child’s age, the adjustment to in-person socialization may take a while. “What is most important during this time is that parents remain supportive and understand that transitions may take longer than expected,” Dr. Kornblum says.

Minimize any potential COVID exposure.

Parents should not assume that all kids in their friend group are safe playdates. “I always encourage open dialogues between family and friends in order to fully understand the risks,” says Gopi Desai, M.D., FAAP, general pediatrician at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens. “Talk about the activities you and your family have been doing, and what those around you have been doing. This will give you a sense of what the exposure levels might be.” 

RELATED: How to Keep Young Kids Healthy Post-COVID

Dr. Desai recommends asking about vaccine status for adults and kids (older than 12) in the household. If all members are vaccinated, the risk of transmission is much lower. If kids haven’t been vaccinated, Dr. Desai recommends masks—parents should model mask-wearing behavior so their kids can follow their example. Also, talk to them about the importance of not sharing food/cups or items that are difficult to clean, and they should be reminded not to put toys in their mouths or touch their faces. 

If children will be eating together, and masks will be coming off, make sure to enforce social distancing rules. The CDC says that COVID transmission can occur when touching surfaces covered in the virus, or within 6 feet of others who don’t live in the same house. Another good nugget of advice: Postpone the playdate if anyone is sick.

Research summer camp and play outdoors. 

If you’re looking to send your child to camp, ones that are primarily outdoors are still your best option. Be sure to ask about safety precautions that will be taken by the staff. Dr. Desai recommends asking if masks are required at all times, if staff members are required to be vaccinated, and about the number of children that will be enrolled. “If staff members are vaccinated and most of the day is spent outdoors and in small groups, this will definitely lower the risk for children attending,” she says. 

Additionally, parents should know the rules when it comes to encounters with someone who has COVID. “Ideally, even large camps will split up into smaller pods so that kids and staff are only exposed to a limited number of people,” Dr. Desai says.

No matter what level of socializing your family chooses this summer, keep in mind that the best option for one family may not be the best option for another family. And as Dr. Desai says, it’s important that kids find joy in their summer activities. “We know that there are clear benefits to attending in-person camp and having playdates, so it is crucial to encourage these activities in a way that is safe and mindful.”

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