I have vivid memories of my elementary school days. I remember playing the rhythm sticks in music class while my teacher taught us how to keep a steady beat. I remember the special lunch days that my friends and I got to buy donuts after lunch for $0.25. I remember that daredevil boy in my class that fell off of the monkey bars and broke his arm, trying to do tricks. Then, I remember my teenage years…going to the local burger joint to get burgers after Friday night football games. I remember stalking my high school crush with my friends by my locker. All of these memories include my friends; the people I learned with, grew with, and had fun with. The current reality for many children and teens right now is a stark contrast to the memories I hold dear. Many children are waking up to another day in front of a computer screen, trying to log onto their class Zoom meeting. Teenagers are resorting to “Google hangouts” in order to socialize with their friends since they can’t go to the movies or the local diner. This is a hard and sad reality for many children and teens, and parents are having to watch their children struggle and stress and grieve the missed opportunities. Parents are asking, “How can I support my child right now?” “Is there anything I can do to help?”
The therapists at Waters Edge Counseling like to encourage parents to think through the social skills that their child should be developing according to their age, and to try to supplement with other opportunities to develop those skills. Let’s talk a look at these different stages and how parents can help their children and teens during this time that can be socially isolating:
- Toddlers and Preschoolers – Children that fall in this age range are beginning to pick up on social cues from those around them. They are noticing that someone who is laughing is happy and that someone who is crying is sad. They are learning about how humans interact and show emotion. It is important for them to be around people to see these cues and learn from them. Video play dates and play dates outdoors may be a good alternative to playing inside at a friend’s house. Allowing these children to watch TV shows with real people, such as Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood will help expose them to opportunities to learn from watching other people and their emotions.
- Pre K-1st grade – Cooperative play is an important part of the social skills developed during this age. Children are learning how to interact with others and their emotions. Board games and basic card games are a great way for children to develop these skills. Children learn how to take turns and how to act appropriately when they win or lose. Perhaps there is another family or two who is taking the same COVID precautions as you are, and your children could play some games outside together. If getting together with other children is not an option, then we would encourage parents to engage in playing these games with their children to help them develop these important social skills. Games like Candyland, Memory and Chutes and Ladders are great for this age.
- Elementary Age – Children in this age group are learning how their actions affect the emotions of others. This is also the age where children learn conflict resolution skills. Board games continue to help develop these skills, but it is also important for children to be around other children their age during this time. If possible, we would encourage you to come up with creative ways for your child to engage with others their age. Outdoor play dates or creating a “social bubble,” one or two friends that you are comfortable being around, is a great option. Children can also interact with others through video chatting if playing in-person is not an option.
- Middle School and High School – This is the age where kids look to their peers to help form their own identities. Those in this age group crave social interaction from others. We encourage you to allow opportunities for “social distancing” hangouts with peers. We would also advocate for giving these teens greater screen time if they need to virtually connect with their friends so that they do not feel as isolated. When teenagers do not get enough socialization, they begin to pull away, close themselves off from others, and self isolate. If you begin to see these “isolative behaviors” in your teen, then they may be feeling lonely and need more socialization.
If you observe that your child or teen is struggling with socialization skills, anxiety, or depression during this pandemic, then please reach out to us. Sometimes just knowing that a child or teen has an outside support system, such as a therapist, can bring stability and peace of mind to a family. This is a hard year, and we are here to help if you need us. Please give us a call at 912-319-5552. We would love to hear from you!