Those days of shooing your children outside to play with the neighborhood kids or letting them invite friends over after school will be on hold for a few more months.
The fact that an end is in sight, though, is a relief for parents worried about their youngsters' social development during the pandemic.
We learn a lot from others from a very early age. Things like how to share, how to tolerate different people and how to accomplish something as a group. That’s been missing for children not going to daycare, preschool or regular classes because of the coronavirus.
“It definitely threw a curve into what kids were used to,’’ says Dr. Mike Vance, a psychologist and the director of behavioral health at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.
Vance says parents shouldn't worry that kids have been ruined by the pandemic.
The most important thing is how parents approach the situation. Avoid the “Gosh, it’s horrible, you aren’t getting any socialization,’’ which magnifies what has been lost. Instead, emphasize the positive, Vance says. The tone for that Zoom play date should be, “This is going to be so cool," rather than making it a poor substitution for how you would have done things pre-virus.
Each family will have to determine what activities they consider safe. For some, that might be creating a bubble with a few other families who are following the same safety practices as your household.
Interactions with one or two other kids is just enough for your child to reach some developmental milestones. Activities can range from a hike or fishing outing if the weather permits to a cooking class or even a movie night.
Ask the kids what they'd like to do, Vance suggests. “Make sure you have their buy in. Allow them to participate in the planning.’’
Following safe practices, with masks, social distancing and hand washing, should always be part of the routine. If a hike is on the schedule, maybe the kids can decorate a mask with an animal they’ll see in the woods, Vance says.
If a Zoom call is all you feel safe arranging, don’t think it has to be a two-hour session. For toddlers or preschoolers, 20 minutes of show-and-tell is enough.
“Think of skills they would get in regular social actions and try to recreate that online,’’ Vance says.
Socialization is key at every age, but the amount and type of it is dependent on the child’s personality and the environment they are in. Kids living in the country might not get as much time with friends as someone going to after-school care.
Parents know their kids and can usually tell if they are missing time with their buddies. If they seem different and are moping around, Vance says, talk to them about it.
“Ask what is going on. ‘You seem down, what can you tell me about that.’ Then, listen. Don’t start firing out solutions. Ask and then listen and then ask again.’’
Try to come up with solutions together, staying within what you deem to be safe. If their answers worry you, talk to the school counselor, a pediatrician or a psychologist.
Don’t apologize for the situation. You are making decisions to keep them safe as well as grandma and grandpa, Vance says.
Both kids and parents like predictability. The pandemic has taken away a lot of our normal routines but it has also created some good ones. If your children aren’t rushing from activity to activity, that leaves time for family dinners and game nights.
Use this time to enrich your family life, and your child’s confidence and self-soothing abilities.
Family activities are just as important as time with friends, and good to continue when things get back to a more normal time, Vance says.
“My bottom line: This year is what it is,’’ he says. “You don’t always have to have friends. It’s OK to sit around and read a book or color or help around the house.’’