Helping Your Children Practice Social Skills During the Pandemic

Thanks to Betty Bodenweiser of Foundation For Learning in Morristown, NJ for letting me share this article which appeared in her September 2020 newsletter.

Our children take away a lot of new information and life skills during the normal school year and through their after school activities. During these times when social distancing, remote learning, and other safety restrictions are in place, how do we help our children learn and practice the social skills they need?

1 – While Zoom and other apps are great for large group “visits,” more personal one-on-one play-dates will be more enjoyable and beneficial. Relationships with others are important to our children’s mental health, and the more personal the virtual visit can be, the more gratifying and enriching the experience. That’s not to say that larger Zoom visits aren’t helpful. Just make sure to schedule one-on-one dates as well. And to add more umph to those visits, plan an activity for the two friends to share while on-line together. Perhaps knitting, painting, or baking. Parents can provide materials or if needed, serve as project tutor during these daily or weekly activities. Your child will be getting good social skills practice during these virtual visits.

2 – Along those same lines, make connections with a study buddy – virtually. Yes, some parents will be forming in-person “pandemic pods”, and while this arrangement has its advantages, it also comes with potential health risks. Consider identifying a parent with a child in the same class and set up a time each day for the two children to practice their spelling, math facts, vocabulary words, study for tests, and anything else that may be assigned? Skype, FaceTime, Google Duo, there are all kinds of free and easy apps that can be used to make these virtual connections so that the two partners can easily “meet up”.

3 – Make video calls to loved ones. Not only will everyone benefit from the emotional connection made while virtually visiting with family and friends, but it will also be a great time to help your child practice picking up on social cues. Yes, it’s more challenging to pick up on tone of voice or subtle nuances in facial expressions or gestures while gazing at someone on a screen, but it’s still a great way for your young one to tune in to other people’s emotions or signs that they might be tired, etc. This is a valuable way for your child to learn how to recognize cues and respond appropriately.

Ideas for in-person opportunities:

1 – It’s always a good time for family game nights, and even more so now that many youth sports and recreation department and other programs are on-hold. Playing games as a family can help a child learn good sportsmanship and enhance rule-following skills. And a note to parents: make sure you model important behaviors while you play, and show your child how to both win and lose gracefully, to avoid criticizing, complaining, quitting, and to play to the end of the game when you then congratulate the winner. 

2 – Learning to work together is an important skill and one that is fairly easy to develop at home. Working together on various household tasks or projects encourages both collaboration and cooperation, so clean out the toy closet and donate the offerings to needy kids, plan a meal and cook it up together, or plant a garden! There are many things you can do around the house that will help your child to work with and support others.

And finally, two quick tips for parents:

1 – Make time to have a good chat with your child. Ask open-ended questions which will allow the conversation to flow and may very well lead to any anxious thoughts that your child may be having during this unusual pandemic life. Let him see you make good eye-contact, listen to what he has to say, model respectful disagreement and other aspects of conversation skills.

2 – Give honest and immediate feedback that will help your child to navigate social pitfalls, allowing him to build better social behavior. For example, if your child is wanting your attention but keeps interrupting a conversation that you are having with another person, stop and turn your attention to your child. Explain that he needs to wait his turn to speak and help him to understand different strategies to get your attention that would be more appropriate and polite.

These are extraordinary times we’re having during this pandemic. The world has turned upside down and social life as we know it has changed in many ways. Take comfort, knowing that children are generally resilient and able to adapt well in challenging circumstances. As parents, we can help them to learn and practice good social skills that they will need in life, even during this time of social distancing and distance learning.