How to help kids develop their social skills during isolation

VIDEO: How to help kids develop their social skills during isolation

Summer is winding down for 8-year-old Caleb and his 5-year-old sister, Nora. But a remote start to the year isn’t how they pictured going back to school.

“When I heard that we’re going to do that, me and Nora are pretty sad,” Caleb said.

Caleb is going into the third grade at North Beach Elementary. Nora is starting kindergarten.

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Distance learning and the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus is making mom, Debbie Wayne, anxious.

“It’s hard not knowing. Before, I think in the spring, when they were still in school, we kind of had a feeling there was going to be a light at the end of the tunnel - whether that was summer or the new school year. Now it’s kind of indefinite,” Wayne explained.

Among her worries are how her young children will cope, not being able to socialize with their peers at school, especially after months of staying at home.

“That’s the number one concern for me is how are they emotionally going to weather this?” Wayne added.

Experts are still learning what lasting tolls this will ultimately have on children who are growing up during this period of social isolation. Psychologist Dr Hayley Quinn at Swedish Medical Center said kids may exhibit a range of feelings from anger to sadness. While parents should validate and reassure their children, she said parents should be mindful of their own response.

“I think it’s okay to acknowledge it’s a tough situation and instill a lot of hope and model that it’s going to be okay. And that you, as a parent, believe we are going to get through it together,” Dr. Quinn said.

As schools remain shuttered, she also suggests parents get creative in helping their children develop and maintain their social skills.

“A big part of our social connection with other people is being able to express gratitude and care for other people. And so parents can do this a number of ways with their kids. It could be writing letters to friends. Who gets a letter in the mail anymore? How cool could that be? Could they write a friend back and forth like a pen pal? It could be cooking something for a friend, learning how to make something and give it to them as long as it felt safe and appropriate,” Dr. Quinn added.

Thanks to modern technology, it's easier to stay connected with family and friends. Her recommendation - creating structure around that time.

“If a child wants to call their friend, maybe make it a weekly occurrence so the child can come  to expect it because children are very soothed by routine and structure,” Dr. Quinn said.

Last year was a crash course in remote learning. And parents may be worried their kids have fallen behind. Dr. Quinn urges parents not to let their kids emotional and social needs take a back seat to their academics.

“Keeping that as a priority and recognizing the importance of that, when this is all said and done, if a child can be resilient, and adaptive and healthy in this time mentally, it’s so much more important than any other piece of their learning in my opinion,” Dr. Quinn said.

It's what mom Debbie is focused on.

As for Caleb, though this upcoming school year isn't what he wanted or expected, he's hoping if he does his part now he'll get to enjoy all his favorite activities sooner rather than later.

“A big party, sleepover thing. See all my friends I haven’t seen in so long,” said Caleb.