Ever since the world came to a seemingly indefinite standstill due to the Coronavirus, most kids are at home with their parents. Not only does this mean juggling between babysitting and working from home, but also most parents now worry about their kids’ social skills post-lockdown.
While many have tried to connect their kids with other preschoolers online through video chats, one nagging question keeps them worried- does it really work? It’s true, virtual friendships can lead to parents feeling all the more frustrated since they are at the mercy of a steady internet connection, pandemic or not. Not to mention the toddlers’ short-lived attention spans. My sister, who lives in a nuclear family, has two daughters under 6. Every time she arranges virtual playdates, the response from her daughters is usually to withdraw, throw a fit, or run away from the screen. And for the few times that they actually do agree to sit, the same isn’t the case with their friend on the other side.
Like many other parents around the globe, she and I have one more thing to add to her list of worries- her kids’ social interaction skills.
It’s true- pre-school years are an important time for kids to learn to share and interact with their peers. It’s the time when the kids begin to develop new social skills when they learn to play outside, learn new skills like learning how to ride a bicycle together.
So, what isn’t your kid getting by not being able to play in the neighborhood with other kids?
Spending time with friends is an important part of the growing up process and helps develop interaction abilities. But try not to worry too much about your kids not being able to do it. Most pediatricians and psychologists have offered reassurance about the isolation that toddlers are facing due to COVID19.
Children tend to be very adaptable and resilient to new environments. Remember the first time you took your toddler out to the park or their first day at school. How long did it take them to get along with the other kids? Not too long, I’m sure. And that’s exactly how it was when the pandemic first began. Okay maybe not. Maybe it took an excruciatingly long and painful few weeks for you and the kids to settle into this new segment of FullHouse.
But, experts say that there is much to be learned from interactions with parents, siblings, and even pets! Plus there is always the ease of arranging virtual play-dates. They may not be the exact replacement for kids socializing but can help fill a few blanks nonetheless. Even without social interaction for a bit, most kids can develop social and emotional skills in ways that can prepare them for the outside world. Some alone time is also valuable.
Even though we are all still coping to keep up with the shift in our social set-up, most experts assert that you don’t worry about your kids’ social skills post-lockdown. Because biologically speaking, humans are wired to adapt. That’s how we have survived for so long when dinosaurs couldn’t.
While there’s ample research on the correlation between loneliness and long-term health problems, doctors suggest that the lockdown itself isn’t depriving kids of what they need, especially when their basic requirements are being met.
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Our existence is proof that kids can actually adapt faster than adults to big changes such as being separated from their parents for a stretch of time or moving frequently. Because a large part of growing up also involves being able to understand one’s own emotions, empathize with others, face challenges, and take responsibility for mistakes. Children learn all or most of these skills by themselves and by imitating the elders at home.
From a social perspective, kids grow up in all kinds of situations, from joint families to nuclear setup. Kids grew up just fine even in earlier times when technology was still primitive. The now always-accessible communication we are accustomed to with family and friends has proven to be a boon in the current circumstances of isolation.
Hence, parents who worry excessively about the lack of social interaction for their kids need to stop panicking. There’s little evidence that even a few months of social isolation will have any long term impact on their kids’ social and mental skills. In fact, parents can help alleviate their own situational anxiety by spending time with them. The global pandemic has rendered a lot of parents unemployed or overwhelmed with having to balance both work and home. The uncertainty regarding when the situation will be under control, if not better, has led to a drastic increase in anxiety amongst adults. Thus, parents should find as many ways as possible to de-stress. Playing with their toddler is one of the best and easily available ways to do just that.
And if you have more than one kid, then there’s even more good news. Studies suggest that children with siblings at home obviously feel less lonely. They even learn to negotiate with the day to day surprises of life since there’s much learning happening at home level. Siblings help each other navigate through the everyday challenges of life. Having siblings also comes as a respite to parents when they want to take some time off or send off that important document before the deadline. Even single children’s parents should seek respite in the strength of relationships at home. Secure relationships with parents really are the building blocks to long-lasting friendships in the outside world too.
It is also no secret that pets, too, can help teach emotional intelligence to young children. By encouraging conversations that revolve around emotions, such as asking what your toddler thinks the pet is feeling, we’re instilling the feelings of empathy, responsibility, and even how to set and comply with boundaries.
When it comes to trying to facilitate for the absence of social interactions, try not to feel pressured and imitate being the same age as your kids or play games you wouldn’t have wanted to otherwise. Interactions at home are like training-wheels for dealing with social interactions later on. It is vital that your kids learn that, like most people and pets, parents have moods, interests, and opinions.
So, how exactly do you stop worrying about your kids’ social skills post-lockdown?
While there’s no exact recipe to it, books can prove to be a great saver when it comes to language acquisition and learning empathy! Books about emotions, people, and places can all be great learning tools. Also, assigning age-relevant chores at home is a great way to develop their sensorimotor skills. My two-year-old loves to “help me in the kitchen.” I usually have him sort veggies by color or even let him rip the greens. It’s a win-win, personally since it allows me to cook in peace as well as keep an eye on him!
Finding the little windows that allow you to have fun with your kids is also important since happiness breeds curiosity and imagination, both of which will come handy later when the kids start venturing out. Imagination, ultimately, also leads to independent play leaving some time for the parents to cool off.
Every kid is different, experts say, and some might even do absolutely fine with limited social interaction. Even one good friend can help a child thrive in social situations and that could also be you.
It is normal to worry but parents can help their children by worrying less about their post-lockdown social skills. Instead, parents can foster healthy growth by ensuring that they spend some time playing with their kids. Ideally, that time would not be at the end of the day when everyone’s tired. It should instead fit into a predictable routine of mealtimes and bedtimes. Also, you do not necessarily need to keep a track of the number of hours you spent playing with your kids or whether the interaction was stimulating enough.
So, don’t worry about your kids’ social skills post-lockdown as there’s much danger of overthinking this and trying to create a controlled environment.
How are you keeping your kids busy during the lockdown?