Before the pandemic occurred, there were hardly any limits to encounters and experiences that may have been turned into teachable moments for kids to learn valuable social skills. However, with clear recommended limits on actual physical contact ensuring that children continue to learn to develop their social skills requires a bit more ‘out of the box’ thinking.
Team sports and Individual competitions encouraged sportsmanship, poise, and empathy. An afterschool playdate with another child was a great vehicle to teach children how to have impeccable manners, how to share, and how to respect other people’s belongings and personal space. Summers breaks spent at day camps allowed children to practice listening skills, taking directions, fostering independence, and ingenuity.
Like with countless other things in life, the pandemic has required that families create a new normal in terms of discovering connections in the outside world, and many parents are now worried that between strict stay-at-home orders and social distancing procedures, that kids may grow up lacking the needed skills that will help them better navigate life in the future.
Because of COVID-19, social health has been impacted by social distancing, isolation and lockdowns. Knowing that socializing impacts our physical and emotional health it is more vital than ever for people to feel connected and supported. Here are ways connect and help build lasting benefits for your family long after the pandemic.
1. Make uninterrupted family time a priority
Now more than ever, kids need more attention at home. Not many people do well in quarantine, but children, particularly those who are not yet old enough for remote interaction are vulnerable to feelings of loneliness.
Since their interaction with friends and classmates are severely limited currently, adults need to fill in the gaps with required family time. If you are working from home, try to rearrange your schedule so that a few hours of your day is free to include family time as a non-negotiable part of your routine.
By being intentional about spending quality time with your children at home, not only will it help them curtail deep feelings of loneliness, but as a parent you will have the opportunity to closely detect and recognize low areas in their social skills, such as when they fail to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ or when they forget to regard the feelings of others when they call their siblings names or borrow their stuff without asking first.
Family time can be as simple as a round of UNO, a friendly competitive game of Pictionary, or any age-appropriate game for the ages in your family. You would be surprised how much you can learn from your kids’ attitude and disposition just by sitting down and playing with them.
2. Organize virtual play dates and adult only virtual sessions
Often, kids still behave differently when with family than when with friends. Your kid might be talkative and expressive because they are comfortable with you, only to curl back up into their shell when around other people. For this reason, you still must alternate family time with play dates. Teens and tweens can surely set this up on their own, but for smaller kids, you might have to get in touch with other parents from school so you can set it up for the young ones.
Reach out to keep friendships close
Regular contact is important for maintaining close friendships. Even if you are staying at home more, you can still set a goal to contact a couple of your friends every week. Make a call, text them, have an exchange using social media, share coffee over FaceTime or Zoom — there are a number of ways to connect with friends and keep them close at heart even when you’re social distancing.
Regular contact is important for maintaining close friendships. Even if you are staying at home more, you can still set a goal to contact a couple of your friends every week.
Find common ground in a community group
Maybe you do not need a lot of close friendships. If you prefer to keep things low-key but still enjoy engaging with others, think about joining a group. Because of COVID-19, many community groups are forming virtually. For example, one young lady who enjoys yoga has joined a group for a Sunday evening yogis on Facebook. Make it about sharing moments with others while doing something you enjoy.
Work on your friendships while working out
Grab your mask and meet a friend for a physically distant walk around the park. Or take your pet for a walk and take a moment to chat with a neighbor at a safe distance. Going out at about the same time each day often leads to seeing the same people regularly. Although you may only have a brief conversation, it can become a bright spot in your day that you look forward to and improve your social wellness.
Try to keep your social commitments
Maybe you are not going out to eat or enjoying a movie night with friends like you used to. That is why something like a video call with a friend is just as important. Still, it takes time and effort to connect and it may seem easier to cancel the call. But canceling too often will make your friend feel less valued. That can affect not only your friend but your feelings about yourself. Try to keep your commitments and make the connection.
Hone your communication skills
Communication is a major part of maintaining strong relationships and staying socially healthy. Feeling you have poor communication skills may make it hard for you to socialize and build a rapport with others. In many cases, it is a lack of confidence or practice that can be improved by reading books or taking online courses. Not everyone is born with great communication skills, but they can be learned. These are just a few of the ways you can start now:
· Maintain eye contact when you are talking with someone, even if it is on a video call.
· Give the other person plenty of time to talk and listen well when they do.
· Stay tuned into your body language — for instance, do not fold your arms, which can look like you are not open to what the other person is saying.
3. Enroll your children in extra online classes
Homeschooling is good and has its own set of perks for growing kids, but there is nothing like meeting new classmates and getting acquainted with new teachers to introduce essential social skills for kids.
Therefore, if your child is forced to attend school remotely for now, it might be a good idea to enroll your child in an online class or two, so they will not miss out on the experience. It does not even have to be for an academic course – in fact, this is a perfectly good time for your young one to explore extracurricular interests.
4. Give children more responsibilities at home
As mentioned earlier, the ability to take instructions and see through a task to completion is one of the most important skills a child can learn growing up. Since your kid will mostly be home for the duration of the pandemic, there is no better time than now to introduce more responsibilities for them at home.
Instead of harking orders whenever you see fit, like telling them ‘Pick up your toys!’ or ‘Clean your room’ just when the house gets too messy to handle, have them settle into a routine. For example, you can show them once or twice where all their toys are supposed to go or how to systematically clean their room, and then tell them that you are expecting them to regularly do these tasks on certain days of the week.
Be constructive when giving feedback on their work, too. Instead of criticizing the way they made their bed, express that their efforts are well appreciated, but gently let them know how they can improve on it the next time. Giving them additional responsibilities like watering house plants and watching over their younger siblings for a few minutes at a time can also teach kids empathy and how to be cognizant of other living creatures’ needs.
5. Supervise screen time
It is almost impossible to get through this pandemic without allowing kids their screen time, especially when you need them to keep themselves occupied while you attend a Zoom meeting or accomplish an important task for work.
The downside of this, especially if you have not blocked access to questionable sites and TV programs at home, is that your child may pick up troubling manners and less-than-commendable behavior that might negatively affect the way they treat other people. So, whenever you can, monitor the kind of media your child has access to on their screen time. Make sure everything is educational and age-appropriate while also being entertaining for young ones.
6. Consider getting a pet
At the end of the day, having good social skills boils down to building empathy towards other creatures. When a child/adult knows how to be sensitive, caring, and affectionate, all the other social skills will follow. One amazing way to teach kids empathy at a time like this is by getting a family pet.
Having animals to communicate with, both verbally and non-verbally, helps kids gain better sensitivity to the needs and feelings of other living creatures. Most people consider their childhood pet as their first best friend, and these people first learned how to forge meaningful relationships by caring for their pet.
A family pet can also provide ample opportunities for kids to step up and take more responsibility while enjoying themselves in the process. Ensuring that a dog gets enough exercise or that a fish gets enough food for the day is a wonderful experience for your child, who could also use the emotional pick-me-up of having animals around.