How to Grow Your Child’s Social Development as the World Transitions out of Quarantine

While this last year of 2020 has swapped out weekend soccer games for playing catch with your family in the backyard, and birthday parties full of giggling children for lines of honking cars with birthday signs and balloons, it seems 2021 offers a glimmer of hope for some normalcy as some school districts send children back to school across the US. It may be an understatement to say that quarantining has affected our own adult social lives, but it may be more of an understatement to say that our childrens’ social lives have been significantly and negatively affected.

Though children are incredibly resilient and have high elasticity when it comes to learning social cues and how to connect with their peers, the last year has given them meager opportunities to develop their brain functioning that allows them to do so. Interacting with other children at school through their tablets in 2D is not the same as interacting with their peers in 3D, in person. So, how has this last year of quarantine affected not only their social development but their psychology in general? Do we, as parents, have reason for concern when it comes to the trajectory of their development when they were practically forced to spend much of the last year indoors? And how could it be possible, if at all, to actually grow your child’s social development when societal normalcy is not an option?

How Quarantine Has Affected Your Child’s Psychology

Philip Fisher, a neuroscientist at the University of Oregon, administered an electronic survey to a representative group of one thousand American families with young children, says Lisa Miller, for magazine, The Cut. Beginning on April 6th of 2020, the purpose of this survey was to track how children are behaving and feeling throughout the course of quarantine, to gather data on how children change in isolation. By week 12, in July 2020, Fisher had this to report about changes in behavior among the children:

“At week 12, 79 percent of parents of kids under 5 said their children were more fussy and defiant than before, and 41 percent of their children were more fearful or anxious. Harried parents reported frequent tantrums and incessant, escalating sibling fights. One young boy in New York mourned the loss of his daycare, shuttered for more than two months, and chanted the name of each child in his class every night in an incantation of grief. Just after the Fourth of July, a mother in Missouri noted that her daughter had gotten more demanding, wanting extra attention especially when she was on video calls.”

Other parents have reported increased bedwetting, children who typically speak in a mature manner have digressed to baby talk, increased aggression in children toward caregivers and family members, and spikes in general anxiety, separation anxiety, and depressive states. Some, or all, of these accounts, may sound familiar to you, as a parent having just spent the last year in a yo-yoing quarantine with your child or children.

First, we want to take a moment to say, “Bravo to you!” You have made it this far, and are doing great. We certainly aren’t here to diminish how difficult the last year may have been for you as a parent, and how much effort you have put forth along the way! In fact, according to the same study, the percentage of parents who experienced increasingly ‘fussy and defiant’ children never sank below 70 percent from April to October of 2020! So, if your frustration of working from home while simultaneously homeschooling your child, among the million other things you have to juggle, has continued thus far, you are definitely not alone.

So, now that we have identified the many ways our childrens’ behaviors have changed during quarantine, is there any good news to be heard about progressing more positive behaviors beyond times of Covid? The short answer?: Yes! Children are resilient, and while the rest of the world returns to a new ‘normal,’ they will be soon to follow.

The most important thing you can do as a parent is to keep setting up situations for your child to interact with peers, and to do your best to get them the help they need to feel like themselves again. If your child has shown increasingly aggressive behavior toward family members or friends out of frustration with their current situation in quarantine, you could look into getting a counselor for your child. Having an adult to talk to who has not been shut in the house with them for the past year could prove to be incredibly beneficial for not only your child but for their relationship with you, too. But, ultimately, only you will know what is best for your child as he or she transitions out of quarantine.

Ways to Increase Your Child’s Social Interaction in a Meaningful Way

Though many families have hopefully already found a way to create a routine in the way their children interact with peers at this point of quarantine, it may be helpful to add even more thoughtful ways of flourishing peer engagement to make up for some of the past months in isolation.

As a parent, it is your responsibility to take the lead in helping your child to maintain social engagement in ways that will benefit their specific needs. But, one of these ways may be to flip the script by helping your child to acknowledge the many ways that children who are in different situations from them may have suffered more drastically during quarantine. Of course, teaching your child to think of ways to help others is a very important skill to develop.

One way you could suggest that your child connects with peers in need during this time may be to become pen pals with children who have been in hospitals during quarantine. You can help them to acknowledge that while your child may have missed out on hosting their usual birthday party with friends at your local trampoline park, or having lunch with their friends in the cafeteria at school, other children with chronic illnesses may not have had those experiences for many more months, or even years. This time could be an opportunity for your child to reach out to those who feel especially lonely and isolated from their peers in their daily life, and for your child to gain a new perspective over what the last few months has meant to them! So, go ahead and contact your local hospital and inquire about whether there is an existing pen pal program, or whether it may be possible for your child to be put in contact with a peer. Who knows, after Covid-19 is over, maybe your child can meet their pen pal and make a new friend for life!

Another way for your child to increase their social development through community involvement may be to participate in local pick-up games! Just because their spring sports teams may not be back in action in the upcoming months, doesn’t mean you can’t put together a weekend pick-up game with neighbors or friends in your community! Does your local park offer pick-up soccer on the weekends now that Covid restrictions are lessening in some parts of the country? Or do you have enough family friends in the neighborhood to throw together two teams for some healthy competition? Be a role model to the kids by getting out there and getting active! The team building with children your child may not typically interact with in your community can allow them to create new friendships or strengthen those that may have been thrown to the wayside throughout the pandemic.

Does your child need an “emotional check-in?” Perhaps your child has experienced fits of rage that are uncharacteristic to them, or they have been crying more often than is normal. It is easy to see that this could be a result of the unpredictability of the world around them during times of a pandemic. Being suddenly isolated from your peers and the stability and predictability of going to school can be traumatic for a lot of children. This is important to acknowledge and not be swept under the rug. Hiring a counselor that your child can talk to at least once a week can provide them with a healthier outlet for their confusing and bottled-up emotions during quarantine. You can even talk to their teacher and schedule the counseling during school hours so that your child might feel that it is a normal part of everyones’ school day and that there is nothing abnormal about needing a trusted adult outside of the home to talk to!

It may be the most obvious statement ever that, as parents, we hardly have time for ourselves because our children always come first. However, it is important to remember to replenish and nourish yourself and your relationships. The way you interact with yourself, your partner, and your child is the most important example for the way your child learns to interact with the world. Children are intuitive and can pick up on when you are feeling frustrated with them or other things, but are showing it in the way you interact with them. It is only beneficial to your family if you take a few minutes to yourself each day to take care of yourself. Or better yet, show your child how you take care of yourself by having a “self-care night” with them. Roll out your mats and turn on a mommy and me yoga video, cook a nutritious dinner together, or put on a face mask and take a bubble bath. This can be a valuable time to check in not only with your child, but to hit reset with yourself, too. And what melts anxieties better than a nice at-home spa night with a loved one and a warm bubble bath?

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