Preparing Children to Return to School – A Social Approach
Over the past few months, interactions have been minimal, and our social skills are rusty. Since prolonged school closures have a negative impact on children’s social development, we are now faced with how to regain skills while moving forward with new skills. Though some children will return to a brick-and-mortar school, others will virtually engage with teachers and classmates. But no matter how they attend school in the beginning, all children will return to in person classes eventually, so we must prepare them now so they can feel confident as they re-engage with friends, classmates, and teachers when the time comes.
The extended time away from school, in conjunction with periods of isolation and the summer break, have exacerbated feelings of uneasiness when it comes to social interactions for children. And while they may be excited about seeing their friends and teachers again, the anxiety that they are feeling may deter them from regular social interactions in the beginning. Children need a refresher course in age-appropriate social interactions that will restore their social skill set.
To help children navigate through any social anxiety and apprehension, parents can begin building their child’s social confidence again by implementing the following three steps.
1) Identify Social Concerns – Just as any new school year generally brings on a little anxiety, this year will bring about slightly more. Even for children that have been able to interact with extended family and some friends, concern about meeting new teachers and classmates will be heightened because interactions will now look different. By opening a conversation and being attuned to children’s behaviors, parents can begin identifying what children feel will be their most significant challenges about facing social situations again. Being supportive and nurturing will be key in working through this.
2) Refresh Social Skills – As children have regressed in some age-appropriate social skills and have been unable to develop any new ones, parents must now help them regain momentum in their development. However, since social exchanges now require a different approach, we need to be creative with our “no-touch” greetings. Anything from air high fives, to elbow bumps, to giving a peace sign, everyone is learning a new way to interact. Children who are still developing these skills, especially younger ones that are more hands-on, will need to learn to communicate differently. As they move forward, encouragement and reminders of age-appropriate and pandemic-appropriate social interactions are essential.
3) Role-play Social Scenarios – As children talk through their anxiety and refresh their social skills, it is vital to put them into action in a safe space. Engaging in role-playing scenarios will help children work through a new way to socialize while still asking questions when they are unsure. Simple things such as saying hi with a wave or a foot tap can be practiced, which will create consistency and instill a sense of normalcy for new ways to interact. Additionally, using this time to come up with different ways to play while socially distancing can also make children feel more confident in interactions.
An effective way to help work through these three steps is by utilizing the SKILLZ program. This fun, game-based approach to developing the whole child creates an environment where children can interact with others their age, whether in class or virtually. Since the instructors create an entertaining and supportive environment, children feel more secure with interacting socially. In addition, the Parent SKILLZ supplemental information helps parents learn ways to connect and be attuned to their child’s emotions and behaviors while giving them ways to enhance the parent-child relationship so social development can flourish.
As we work through helping children regain lost social skills, it’s important to remind them that things will eventually go back to normal. But for now, engaging them in creating ways they can socialize with others is important. Remind them that they can still smile and wave, they can still talk to others, they can still play with their friends. We just have to be at a larger distance.