For the past two months, we have been asked to socially distance ourselves from others in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. We’ve put most of our “normal” daily living routines on pause and created a secluded environment for ourselves and our children. And while many things are in a holding pattern, one thing that has not taken a break is children’s development. And yes, we are living in unprecedented times but as the world begins the “re-opening” effort, we must prepare ourselves and our children for what our social lives will look like moving forward.
Children’s social development is being impacted by the guidelines surrounding social distancing. They are no longer able to attend school and interact with their teachers and friends and most parents are also limiting their children’s time spent going on errands as well. Therefore, their ability to interact with others is limited. And what’s worse is that many people have taken the term “social distancing” to mean that they cannot interact with others at all. The stress of getting sick has instilled fear in our minds and caused many to avoid eye contact and greeting others, in addition to staying 6 ft. apart.
For children, “social distancing” can be confusing, especially when parents are avoiding others on all levels. And while the intention of this phrase is good, it has sent the wrong message. What we need to teach children is to “physically distance” themselves from others. This term tells them to maintain distance while also letting them know that eye contact and greetings are okay. This way, children learn what they should do to avoid getting sick while also learning and reinforcing the necessary social skills.
In order to meet children’s social development needs, parents must find ways to teach social skills by providing children with creative opportunities for this. One way to start this is by parents role-playing social scenarios. This will be especially important since in-person social interactions will look different as daily activities resume. And while most families have continued to connect with extended family via video chats, parents should also have time set aside for virtual play dates or classes where children can interact with other adults and their peers.
Through the SKILLZ program, children around the world have continued to engage with their peers and instructors while under stay at home orders. Since SKILLZ focuses on developing the whole child, each class targets social skills that are appropriate for a certain age group. And while it’s a bit different now that classes are done virtually, instructors are still able to create interactions between students and allow time to check in with them. Nurturing children’s social development, during this time, is vital in preparing them for interactions with others again.
While we don’t know, yet, what the long-term effects of social isolation on our children will look like, what we do know is that children will be different. To help mitigate any regression in social development, we must take the time now to form a unity between parents and the community and invest in our children’s social growth. By doing this, we are preparing them for success and helping them feel confident in knowing how to interact with others in a safe, yet compassionate way.