Socialization During Social Distancing
Article written by Danyelle Ubertini, LMSW
Social skills are important for each child to develop. They help us interact with others with both verbal and non-verbal cues like speech, facial expressions, body language, and more! Children with healthy social skills are able to display good manners, make friends, initiate conversation, communicate well with others, and cope with the emotions of themselves and those around them. Usually, children learn social skills from a variety of sources such as parents, friends, teachers, and others they interact with regularly. Once a child enters school, their teachers and peers play a major role in social development. However, we are currently faced with a world where a child may not be able to go to school or socialize with peers and family that they used to. If you choose to send your child back to school this fall, they will continue to develop their social skills there. Unfortunately, sending children to school may not be the right choice or even an option for many families but that doesn’t mean your child’s social skills have to suffer! There are many ways to enhance a child’s social skills from home at any age.
Keep In Mind: Just like any other skill, children learn social skills at different rates. Just because a child doesn’t learn the skills at the same times as others does not mean those skills won’t come, they just might need extra support. If you’re concerned that your child is behind and think it could be due to any kind of developmental delay, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion from a professional.
You might think that at this age, a baby is not a social being but that’s not the case! It’s during this time that children learn trust and communication. These are their basic social skills and they are just as, if not more, important than the ones developed later in childhood. Fostering these skills is as easy as being attentive to your child. They learn trust through your attention to and fulfillment of their needs. Babies with a secure attachment know that when they are in distress, you will be there to help. They’ll learn their basic communication skills through their different cries (hungry, tired, sad, etc.) and your ability to understand them and respond. As they end this age range babies can also begin to display interactions with others. What you can do:
- Play peek-a-boo
- Imitate! Encourage them to clap when you do or you can shake a toy when they do!
- Video chat family members and sing songs to keep the child engaged.
These simple games are easy ways for babies to learn to engage with another in play.
This stage requires the same love, attention, and support that are needed from birth-2. During this time however, children begin to develop empathy and a basic understanding of the feelings of others. For example, a child at this age may comfort someone who is hurt or even cry when they see another child crying. A child at this age may not have the vocabulary to explain how they are feeling which can lead to negative behavior like tantrums. This is a great time to begin helping your child understand strong emotions like anger, sadness, or fear. Use words to help them describe what they are feeling and they are much more likely to talk about their feelings rather than acting them out! You can also give children a healthy way to deal with their emotions. Have them stomp their feet if they are mad rather than hitting their brother. This time is also when children begin to understand the concept of taking turns which will help them develop self-control. This is also a great opportunity to begin modeling and practicing positive interactions. Prompt them to look at whomever they are speaking to or who is speaking to them and encourage them to use others’ names.
What you can do:
- Roll a ball back and forth between you.
- Take turns sharing a toy (make sure to say, “my turn!” and “your turn!”)
- Play the name game! Sit in a circle with your family and pass a ball around but make sure to say the person’s name and make eye contact before you pass it!
- Help you child make sense of strong emotions using words, “I can see you’re upset. You feel sad because grandma left.” Then ask them to repeat. It’s all about practice!
- Use pictures of facial expressions and ask, “Which one looks mad? Which one looks happy?”
- Have your child make different facial expressions and photograph each one. This gives the child a visual representation of their feelings!
- Video chat! Call a family member and have them do the facial expressions… “How is Aunt Jane feeling?”
Children at this age develop an even better understanding of feelings and should be encouraged to explore it. They also might start playing alongside or even with a peer and can better understand and tolerate sharing. Children at this age also learn to be proud of their accomplishments so give them the opportunity to achieve! Little responsibilities that they can succeed at can do wonders for a child’s self-esteem which in turn helps them feel confident when interacting with others.
What you can do:
- Have your child draw faces with different expressions!
- While watching a movie, pause and ask your child what they think a character is feeling and give your opinion if they’re unsure! “I think she feels sad because she lost her ball.”
- Give them easy tasks like feeding the family pet or delivering a message to another family member. Make sure to give them lots of praise for listening and doing a good job!
- Play restaurant and have your child be the waiter. Remember to say “please” and “thank you” while ordering. Then, switch it up and have them order from you using the same manners!
- Deal with problem behavior using words. “Why did you hit your brother? You were mad? Here are some things we can do instead when you’re mad.”
- Video chat! Children this age may start to talk about people they miss whether friends, cousins, grandparents, etc. Listen to them and take their cue! Set up a video-call with that person and have your child plan some questions to ask them or things to show before the call starts.
Grade school (5-12)
Children in this age group are refining their communication skills and can better understand and handle complex situations. They are also more likely to be able to vocalize their wants/needs. Listen to them and act accordingly. If a child tells you they want to go to the park, you can explain why they can’t and give them some options of things to do instead. Children at this age are able to express their opinion and negotiate. Respecting their feelings and giving them a choice will help them adjust to the disappointment better than if they hear a simple “no.” Children who are in this age group tend to have more peer relationships than younger children. In order to keep those relationships alive we might have to get creative! Using video chats can be a great way to see friends that they miss but they might need a little help communicating on a new platform. Especially for younger children, they may need some help keeping the conversation moving. After all, if they were together, two 7-year-olds would most likely be playing rather than sitting around and talking.
What you can do:
- Play board games to encourage fair play and turn taking… but don’t always let them win! They will benefit from learning how to deal with loss.
- Give them bigger responsibilities around the house to boost their self esteem. Have them pick the movie for movie night or do their own laundry. Always remember to praise a good job!
- Let them negotiate! It’s easy to say “no” but allowing a child to plead their case and come up with an agreement can help them develop their problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills.
- Video Chat! Have a video chat scavenger hunt and instruct the children to bring each item back to show each other. “Can you find something green?” When they come back to show each other, have them explain what they found and get ready for round 2!
- OR video chat while doing the same online activity like watching a live cam from the San Diego Zoo and talk about the different animals they see. Providing some structure or focus to their video chat can make it a smoother and more enjoyable experience for both parent and child!
Do you have other social skill-building activities? Let us know in the comments!