Social distancing and self isolation are the only known weapons we have right now to fight the Coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping across the globe. Unfortunately, there are still people out there that think the rules don’t apply to them, but the rest of us know that the best thing we can do to help the entire world is to just stay the f**# home.
It’s a pretty simple thing to do for most of us. In fact, I was slightly perturbed to realise that quarantine is not really that much different from my usual lifestyle. Sad or what?
This whole thing has got me thinking about my son, though. These are very formative years in a child’s life. What kind of effect will isolation have on his development?
Pre-school Social Development
Development up until the age of two is very much focused on the physical. Your little one goes from a helpless newborn, quietly observing the world to a running, jumping, climbing daredevil that turns you into a bundle of nerves.
Their language skills are starting to develop and they enjoy playing, but it tends to be what they call “parallel play”. The child plays alongside other kids rather than with them. They may grab at toys, snatching them from other children, but this is teaching them valuable social lessons.
Although it’s good for them to have time interacting with other kids at this age, they’d still rather hang out with mum and dad. A strong bond with parents enables them to develop well emotionally. It gives them a feeling of safety and comfort, while they learn about such things as compassion and trust, and they start to build confidence in themselves.
From 24 to 36 months your child will start to play more interactively with other children. They love to take on different roles in fantasy play, using ideas that they’ve picked up from you and your partner, from other family members, or from TV and books. This really helps build their social skills as they start to learn about cooperation.
Children of this age need to be around other kids so that they can practice skills such as sharing and taking turns. There are still plenty of conflicts that you may need to help resolve, and much use of that word we’re all so used to hearing by now, “NO!”. But these interactions are constantly teaching them really valuable lessons.
Between the ages of 3 and 4 your child will start to seek out friends that enjoy the same things as them, so it’s important to offer plenty of opportunities to be around other kids. Having shared interests will help them learn about sharing and they’re more likely to try to resolve conflicts in order to continue playtime.
This is also the age when your children will start to show more compassion. If someone gets hurt they may sympathize or offer a hug. Picking up on others emotional states and being able to express their own emotions without having a meltdown every time is another important milestone. This is the age when real friendships are being formed.
Developing social skills in children prepares them for a lifetime of healthier interactions in all aspects of life. Displaying good manners, communicating effectively, being considerate and expressing personal needs are all important components of solid social skills.
Unfortunately for our little ones the Coronavirus has thrown a spanner in the works when it comes to learning to socialize. So just how important are these early interactions and is there anything we can do to substitute them?
Isolation, Social Skills And Kids
My son is 20 months old now and we don’t have any other kids in the family or in our social circle here in Portugal. Although he seems quite happy when it’s just us, he also really enjoys being around other kids at the park or on the beach.
I was planning on starting him at playschool for a couple of mornings a week as of May, just so he’d have the chance to be around children, but who knows if that will happen now. And that’s got me wondering about the effects this social distancing and isolation will have on him in the future.
We have been in isolation for almost two weeks now, and my son seems to have become extremely clingy towards me, to the point where I can hardly leave a room without him freaking out. Whether this is a normal phase, a sign of more teeth coming in, or if it has something to do with this strange situation we’re in is difficult to say.
He’s always been a really outgoing, social kid and I worry that him not having much interaction with others will change that part of his personality. When he finally does go to nursery will he be at a disadvantage, having spent so much time with just us?
A study performed by the Norwegian Social Research Institute (NOVA) on adolescents between 13 and 19 years found that being unable to attend school for long periods of time due to illness led to less social interaction and to some children completely losing touch with friends. Those without at least one close friend to confide in suffered more mental health problems such as depression.
Obviously our situation is a little different. I’m generally talking about younger children in this article, and our isolation will hopefully be short lived, but this study just goes to show how important being social is for our mental health.
Social skill development depends on a variety of factors, including:
- Genetic predisposition
- Cultural values and beliefs
- Attitudes and aspirations
- Positive role models
- Play opportunities
- Interaction with other children
- A safe, nurturing and stimulating environment
Providing opportunities for your baby to play with others is going to be pretty tricky at the moment. If you’re lucky enough to have more than one young child then you’re in a slightly better position, but if like me you only have the one, you’re going to have to get creative.
What Can You Do?
As hanging out with other kids is out of the question for now, you’re going to have to amp up your involvement in playtime. Let your toddler chose what they want to do and then you get down on the floor with them and get really involved.
If they want to role-play then play your part. If they are still in the parallel play phase then just be there with them and play alongside them. We want to keep them stimulated and learning through play, and if they can’t do that with other kids then you’re going to have to be the other kid for a while.
Make sure you’re talking to them and asking questions. Language is built through social interaction so keep the conversation going, no matter what level they’re at.
Teach them empathy by talking about different situations and asking them how they think different people are feeling. Show them pictures of people expressing different emotions so they can learn words like happy, sad, angry, frightened. If they understand these words they will be more able to talk about their own feelings.
Be a good role model in your own interactions with your child. Children watch their parents for cues on how to act. If you’re calm, tolerant, positive, a good listener, your child will pick up these traits.
I’ve been making sure my son gets to video chat with family on a regular basis. I bought a tablet a few months ago specifically for this purpose as we live so far away. Until I had Jesse I was fine with just a phone call, but now he’s here I want him to know the faces of his grandparents and his cousins. Especially as I don’t know when we will be allowed to visit again.
What Can I Say?
I really don’t have the answers as to whether what we are experiencing now will have any adverse effects on our kids in the future. I guess it all depends on how long this goes on and as yet we don’t have an answer to that.
These are very strange times we are living in and the best thing we can do is to try to keep things as normal as possible for the children. Easier said than done, I know. But with a bit of patience and a lot of creativity we can do our best to make sure they aren’t missing out on too much.
If you have any ideas to share on keeping the kids occupied, or anything you’d like to add please feel free to do so in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you guys think about the whole situation.
Thanks for reading,