Helping Your Child Socialize Post-Covid
It has been over a year since the first case of COVID-19 was detected. It has changed the way kids and teenagers have grown up. They have spent more time at home with only close family, they haven’t been able to hang out with friends and haven’t been in crowded areas in a long time. Many young children have been at home with parents or other close family members during the COVID-19 pandemic, which means they’ve been taking a break from daycare or school. Usually, your child’s personality, in addition to their home environment, will affect how they respond to the situation.
When it comes to teenagers, the situation is quite different. Teenage years can be hard, to begin with, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made it harder. Many teens have missed out on some of the biggest or most monumental moments of their young lives.
Not to mention, teenagers have been missing out on just normal, everyday socializing that is so important for social development in the teenage years. Feelings of anxiety, disappointment, isolation, and even anger are expected and should be normalized.
Remember, sometimes, the only way out of painful feelings is through them!
If you can help your teen schedule a socially distanced and safe get-together, this can make a difference - think of a picnic, hammocking, a bike ride, or a socially-distanced walk. Seeing one friend at a time is usually going to be safer than meeting in groups.
First, let’s look at certain tips and tricks that can help your child during the socialization process in general:
When talking to somebody, encourage your children to look into their eyes and talk for effective communication and to build confidence. Your toddlers may need to practice every day to master this art.
Try games like ‘staring contest,’ tell your children to talk to their soft toys, or tell you stories while looking into your eyes.
Teach them emotions:
Let your children imitate a variety of emotions - joy, anger, disappointment, excitement, mischief, weirdness, nervousness, tiredness, terror, danger, etc. Play the ‘Identify the emotion’ game by making faces or holding placards of different smiley.
This helps them differentiate emotions and express themselves better, and not get confused when mingling with other kids or people.
Make them communicate:
Verbal or non-verbal, your children should learn to express, interact, and respond to social stimuli. Help your children learn appropriate greetings and responses.
Kids may need help or guidance to interact with others appropriately, to overcome shyness, to manage a response, and express true feelings. Let your children know that they are free to talk, ask, question, and communicate their needs, desires, beliefs, and ideas.
As parents and grandparents, talk to them every day and make generous use of words like ‘please,’ ‘let’s,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘common,’ etc.
Give them the environment:
A lonely child may have difficulty interacting with the world. Give your children good company, exposure, and chances to interact with different types of people.
Prepare them for higher social skills:
A child who can communicate and express himself / herself fearlessly is armed to face the challenges when he/she grows up to tackle complex situations.
Let your children maintain good communication channels and pick up skills like negotiation, conflict resolution, non-verbal communication, assertiveness, bargaining, public speaking, etc.
If you are a parent who’s worried about your child’s social life post-pandemic, it would be best to remember that a child’s friend circle and peer group should be built largely by them, and there is only so much you can do. That being said, there are more than a few things that you can do to help your child socialize in this new, post-covid world:
Acknowledge that new situations can be scary:
Remember what it felt like to be the new kid at school, get assigned to an elementary school classroom with none of your friends, or show up at a party where you didn’t know anyone but the host? Some people can dive right into those situations and thrive right away! But other kids need time to get used to a new situation. That’s perfectly normal. To almost every kid in the world, they are beginning to re-enter social situations they haven’t been in for over a year. For all of us, doing something new - or even something we haven’t done for a while - can be a bit scary.
Talk to your kids about how they feel:
If you notice that your child is nervous or hesitant to jump back into social situations, talk to them about it!
First, make sure you validate how they’re feeling. Many kids feel shy in new settings - and re-engaging in post-pandemic socialization is certainly a new setting. Reassure them that it is normal to feel worried or scared at times while also explaining that with time what feels scary now will feel normal later.
If possible, talk about other times they were able to do something successfully that they were initially worried about - like going on a roller coaster, trying a new sport or extracurricular activity, or even the first day of a new school year.
Help your child put themselves out there:
Repeated exposure to a feared stimulus is one of the best ways to decrease anxiety. In kid-friendly terms, this means that doing something scary - especially several times - helps your child feel less scared the next time they tackle the same situation.
It’s helpful to start small and build themselves - so maybe suggested that your child starts by getting together with just one friend before joining an entirely new soccer team or introduce themselves to a classmate before trying to have a full conversation.
The anticipation before a new activity can often be the hardest part, so make sure you schedule these activities in the not-too-distant future (in accordance with current COVID-19 safety guidelines). This way, your child can engage in the activity and then build on that success as opposed to simply wondering - and worrying - about when it will happen.
Remember to praise your child after they complete the activity so that they should know how proud you are! (Just make sure you change your praise based on your child’s age - a big hug might be great for an elementary school student, whereas a simple “nice job” might be more appropriate for your teen.)
Remember that it’s OK to spend some time alone:
As excited as you might be to set up playdates and watch your child hang out with other kids at school again, remember that solo time is not only OK but healthy! This can be a time for creativity, exploring new hobbies, and mastering existing ones. Plus, it can also help kids know that they are capable of entertaining themselves. Every child and family will have a different balance of social time and alone time
- especially as we continue to get closer and closer to post-pandemic times.