How to Help Your Child Socially Re-Engage After Covid Isolation
Let’s face it. This last year has been rough! Rough on parents. Rough on families. Rough on children. Our “normal” lives were turned upside down. We have intentionally isolated ourselves and our children. Seeing friends, having playdates, and attending social gatherings were all put on hold. School and work were halted, causing a huge change in routines, expectations, and life as we knew it. Many children spent their days at home; spending hours on screens doing online learning, and then playing video games until bedtime. This past year has not only caused an insurmountable amount of stress and anxiety in children and families, but also extreme isolation.
As the Covid numbers begin to go down and the vaccine rates begin to go up, what will life look like for our families? And more importantly, how will our children respond to breaking out of the isolation that has become so normal, and transitioning back to real life? Many predict that it won’t be easy. Here is what is expected:
- Children may be nervous and worried to return to school.
- Children may be reluctant to re-engage with friends or in activities outside of the home.
- Children may prefer to stay at home, and on their screens.
- Children may experience anxiety, anger and/ or sadness as a response to the transition.
What can parents do to help their child with the transition?
- Validate their feelings. It’s been hard and it’s going to be hard. Allow space for your child to express that. Validate and normalize their concerns, fears, and anxieties. You don’t have to “fix it,” just listen and validate what they are feeling. Offer your love and support, and let them know you will be there along the way.
- Re-build their confidence in engaging in social interactions. Remind your child of past experiences in which they overcame. For example, the time when they were nervous to start soccer/ballet/kindergarten but pushed through and ended up enjoying it. Or the time when they went to the park and made a new friend. A “you can do this” or “you got this” can go a long way.
- Prepare them for what’s to come. Whether it is returning to school or going to see a friend at the playground, prepare the child with what is expected to happen. Discuss what the experience might be like and how they might feel. Answer their questions in the best way you can. This creates feelings of safety and security.
- Provide opportunities to socially re-engage. Take baby steps if needed. For example, rather than attend a group gathering, schedule a one on one playdate for a short period of time. Ease the child back into social interactions. Encourage your child to get outside, to play with a friend. Ask them to come up with ways to socialize with others. Do they want to have a friend over? Do they want to play a sport? Have them create a list of ideas. And remember, holding off on socializing may just result in more anxiety and less confidence in the future.
- Take time to breathe and de-stress. This is an important step. Don’t skip it. It is important to do with your child (and without!). If you are less stressed, it helps your child to be less stressed. In addition, de-stressing with your child is teaching them the important skills of self regulation and self care. Explain the purpose to your child and practice it with them. Start with getting into a quiet, comfortable space with your child. You may want to play soothing music. Lay down flat on your back. Place your hands on your belly so you can feel your breath. Slowly breathe in and out, and feel your body relaxing. Take a few minutes to just be. We all need a little calm in such a wild world.
What did I miss? What else might kids need during this transition back to the world “after” Covid?
Blog written by Jaime Hughes, M.S.W, LICSW, Child Therapist.