How do I navigate summer with unvaccinated kids? HELP!

Families/Kids Staying Safe

A: This is hard. While we seek an easy guide for summer activities with unvaccinated kids, there just isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

Sending strength and a few tips to everyone navigating summer plans with unvaccinated kids.

This is Dr. Ashley Ritter here today. I regularly participate in complicated decision making with patients and their support people in my clinical practice. I specialize in discussions like: “Can I keep driving?” and “Is this surgery a good idea?” and “Can I continue to live alone?”. My experience organizing thoughts to guide complex decision making also apply to COVID-19 risk and summer activities for unvaccinated kids. That said, it’s still REALLY HARD to make decisions for my own kids this summer!

I like to start with a concrete question. “How will I navigate the summer with kids?” is too big of a question. Instead, I try to focus on a specific situation like “What would make this trip to the playground safe and enjoyable?” or “What is the best option for visiting with family today?” These smaller questions have tangible options and produce less anxiety.

Respectful conversation and boundaries are key. Not everyone agrees on what is “safe” right now. Finding a compromise is impossible without investment in a conversation. It’s hard work to engage in conversations about COVID-19 risk mitigation with friends, family, and community leaders. We must continue that dialogue to survive the summer. Know your absolute “no go” scenarios. Boundaries are healthy. Be transparent about your goals and boundaries while maintaining respect.

Most situations are not yes/no answers. There is a LARGE range of options in the middle. For example, driving during daylight hours to known destinations is a risk modification plan that allows some people to keep driving. I think of COVID-19 risk mitigation strategies in much the same way. Maintaining distance, wearing masks, remaining outside, COVID-19 testing, and functioning within a pod are all strategies that can be utilized to make desired activities safer.

Identifying known and unknown risks can help frame what you can and cannot control. You can control your personal mitigation measures. You can get vaccinated. You can monitor community transmission rates. Unfortunately, public settings that have lifted requirements for masks and other risk mitigation measures present unknowns. Risk tolerance varies from person to person and situation to situation. In addition, not everyone has the privilege to avoid higher risk situations.

Focus on what matters by considering the risks and benefits of an event AND not doing the event. We often focus only on what happens if we choose a certain path and less about what happens if we DO NOT choose that option. What would happen if you didn’t go to the play date? What would happen if you didn’t join the family vacation? By considering the alternative option, you may discover the core of what really matters and find an alternative safe pathway to meet that need.

We are surrounded by good news as COVID-19 case rates remain low and vaccination rates increase in the US. At the same time, navigating the reopening of public places with unvaccinated kids is really hard. These two feelings can coexist. Breathe, reflect, and go slow.

Additional Reading

Sampling of parent decisions in Philadelphia Magazine

Link to Original FB Post