In the past few years, we have been asked to socially distance ourselves from others. We’ve put most of our “normal” daily living routines on pause and created a secluded environment for ourselves and our children. And only recently have things begun to grow out of this “holding pattern.” One thing that has not taken a break, however, is children’s development. And yes, we are living in unprecedented times, but as the world continues 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 was seriously impacted with the guidelines surrounding social distancing. Their ability to interact with their teachers and friends was changed drastically, practically overnight, and most parents have, until very recently, been limiting their children’s time spent going on errands as well. Therefore, their ability to interact with others was substantially limited, and because we learn by doing, it remains limited, if not in opportunity, then certainly in ability. And what’s worse, 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. While these are habits gained from short-term necessity, they will have a substantial and lasting impact on the socialization of an entire generation of children.
For children, “social distancing” was confusing, especially when parents were avoiding others on all levels. And while the intention of this phrase is good, it has sent the wrong message. What we needed to teach children was 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 necessary social skills.
In order to meet children’s social development needs, and the lack of stimulation thereof over the past few years, parents must find ways to teach social skills by providing children with creative opportunities. One way to start this is by parents role-playing social scenarios. This will be especially important since in-person social interactions already 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 and achievable, without being “easy,” and instructors are still able 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, and strengthening their ability to interact with others.
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 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.