If my child had minimal social interactions over the past year, will they be behind in their social skills? What if my child had some interactions but it looked different because of masks and social distancing protocols? Can my child regain the social skills they may have lost over the past year? Will my child be more anxious now when it comes to building friendships? These are all common questions and concerns many parents have.
Between children going to school remotely, to distanced classrooms, parents are wondering how this has all affected their child’s social development. Spoiler alert: your child still has lots of time to develop these skills, along with your help and support! Children’s minds are flexible and resilient, which gives them the opportunities to learn and catch up in skill development. However, if you are feeling a little worried about your child’s development, reach out to your doctor, a psychologist, or a therapist. They will be able to help.
Let’s take a moment to think about what a ‘good friend’ looks like: someone who is playful, kind, empathetic, compassionate, can solve problems, regulate their responses, and adapt to different types of peers and play styles. Altogether, that’s a tall order for any child! This list may be what we picture as a ‘good friend,’ but our children are still working on that! For example, empathy comes with age. Once a child is old enough to put themselves in their friend’s shoes and see the world from their perspective, they will be better able to empathize with their friend’s emotions and perspective. So, as your child develops their ‘good friend’ skills, give them some time and grace. They won’t always get it perfect every time, and they may need some reminders and coaching from you on how to be a kind friend, but all the skills will come together in the end.
Skill-building at home
Let’s look again at the list of a ‘good friend.’ There are a lot of skills in the list that are easily supported and teachable, even if you aren’t at school with your child. Here are some examples:
Problem-solving. Friendship requires a lot of problem-solving: peer conflict, people not wanting to play the same game as you, people taking something from you, just to name a few. Working on the process of problem-solving at home can be a great skill-building activity they can generalize to the school environment. For example, instead of stepping in to solve sibling squabbles, or instead of fixing a problem for them right away when it arises, step back and ask your kids curiosity questions: “What’s the problem here?” “What are your ideas on how to fix it?” “How is that making you feel?” Get their brains into problem-solving mode by supporting them in solving problems around the house!
Sharing, turn-taking, and losing. It’s tricky to want to take turns, share a toy, or lose at a game. You can help to build your child’s tolerance to disappointment by playing at home! Set up play scenarios where you take turns doing something or playing a simple board game (and don’t always let them win!). Having experience tolerating little frustrations in a safe space like home can make it easier for your child to tolerate these disappointments with their peers in a different environment (like school).
Empathy. Although empathy develops with age, it is another skill you can support in developing as your child grows. At home, work on labelling your emotions and your child’s emotions. Model empathy to your child by being empathetic to those around you. Use books, movies, and TV shows to point out how people may feel and why. Get them to start thinking about how they can help a friend feel better when they are feeling sad or frustrated. Remember to have a lot of patience here! Empathy is a skill that takes time to grow and develop.
It can be hard to know who your child is playing with at school and how they are getting along with their friends. It requires a bit of detective work on your part, but with a little purposeful questioning, you will have a better idea of how your child is doing. We all know that an open-ended ‘how was your day?’ can lead to the typical grunting of ‘Idunno.’ Be purposeful with your questions: “Who did you sit next to at lunch today?” “Did you help a friend today?” “Tell me the name of a friend who made you smile today.” “I want to know more about the game you played during recess! What were the rules?” “If you could invite a friend over to play, who would it be?”
It might be tricky for your child to answer at first, but don’t give up! If you create a habit of doing a ‘social check-in’ with your child every day, they will get better at answering these questions and telling you fun stories about their friends. Then you are helping to build positive social memories and strengthening friendship bonds from afar.
The beautiful part about children is they are always growing and developing. Their brains are programmed to absorb information, add new skills, refine old skills and combine skills in order to make more complex abilities. As adults, we need to remember that it won’t come all at once. Take some time to practice these skills and remember to be patient and trust the process.
Ashlee and Lisa are child psychologists who created KidsConnect Psychology as a place for children and families to access tools, supports, and therapy. Check out kidsconnectpsychology.com for digital downloads, parenting tool kits, information about parent counselling, school consultations, daycare consultations, and more! Follow on Facebook and Instagram.
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