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,
9 thoughts on “Coronavirus – Will Isolation Have An Effect On Children’s Social Skills?”
I have always been concerned about the homeschooling having an impact on a child’s social skills, but with our crisis right now this is going to be even more of an impact on our children developing good social skills especially for their safety they must stay at home more than ever before
It is a worry, let’s just hope that this virus is soon under control and our isolation isn’t prolonged. Like you said, safety comes first so for now that should be our main focus. If the isolation ends up going on a lot longer then we’ll have to consider the other factors then.
All the best to you Jeff, take care.
This is a very informative, insightful and extremely relevant article. Can I just applaud you first for your opening paragraph, people need to stay the F**# home is so right. Thank you for pushing that message.
I don’t have my own children, but I do have a small nephew and niece who I cannot see. My best friends also have two small boys. This article has given me a way in which I can help them, by passing on your advice. Again, I just want to thank you and applaud you for writing this.
I have forwarded on this article and your site to my brother, sister-in-law, and my friends. I will let you know what they think and I will encourage them to engage on your site too.
Thank you again for sharing, and keep up the amazing work you are doing.
Keep well, stay safe, and all the best,
Thanks so much Tom, I really appreciate your message.
It’s not easy not being able to spend time with family and friends but staying home isn’t the hardest thing in the world, like some people seem to think. It’s a pretty cushy problem really and we shouldn’t be complaining about it. I bet all the amazing healthcare workers that are fighting this thing on the front-lines would give anything to be stuck at home.
There are plenty of ways to stay in touch nowadays so we always have that. We just need to look on the bright side now and use this time to connect and recharge.
Take care of yourself, Debbie x
Hi Debbie, It’s certainly nice to hear a parent like yourself understand that social skills are so important for our children. Many parents could take a leaf out of your book!
So many kids nowadays are missing that important skill, especially with the way technology has gone.
Technology is key to this with most kids having mobile phones, they are too happy to stay in their bedrooms texting.
I know times have changed but parenting hasn’t.
We are pretty much in lockdown here in the UK but I see kids playing out and using this time as some sort of holiday. Amazing eh?
Who knows where this virus will go but we have been living with flu for many years.
Nice to hear that there are still parents willing to bring up their children in the right manner.
That’s very kind of you Mick, thanks for the comment.
Yeah, I guess there’s already a certain amount of isolation kids were experiencing because of technology before this all started. That’s a big issue that I think will show itself to be the cause of many problems in the future. Not just the children’s use of technology, but the parents who are constantly on their phones too.
It’s worrying that kids are still playing out in England. I know from my friends that everything seems to be moving a lot slower there, where this lockdown is concerned. Here in Portugal, and most of Europe, we’ve been isolating for the last two weeks already. I just hope this doesn’t have consequences with the spread.
All the best to you and your family, take care.
Technology has been a mainstay of a kid’s life. Lots of schools have pushed and our children have responded in a positive way, by learning how to use it. To an extent, this has had an effect on limiting their interactions with others their age. Texting seems to be a normal way for them to communicate with each other. I don’t know if this has limited their social skills going forward or advanced it with another avenue of communication but technology has definitely brought changes to our kids life
I think the coronavirus social distancing will further affect our children as more parents will be homeschooling them thus limiting their time with others their age. Your thoughts on keeping the kids involved with learning by playing with you and others will help in their development and hopefully keep them on track with their social skills. No one knows how long the coronavirus will continue to play havoc in the world but I think getting ideas of what to do will help propel us forward.
I agree with you about the necessity of technology in children’s lives today. They are growing up in a completely new era and their lives will look very different in the future to what ours have been like. You can already see the fundamental differences in the way we live compared to how our parents lived. Technology moves so fast, sometimes it’s frightening, but we should embrace all the good things it brings. Just the fact that we can video call our family now is something that was unheard of not so long ago.
I just feel that it can be abused and overused as a way to keep a child occupied. We all do it occasionally, let the TV be the babysitter when we’re just too tired or too busy to entertain. I think that’s ok, as long as it’s the exception not the norm.
I’m fairly optimistic that we won’t be stuck in isolation long enough for it to have any detrimental effects on our kids. But what a great time to be spending some quality time with them, making memories. Or if they are older, maybe getting to know them all over again.
Thanks for commenting Bob, I hope you and your family are safe and well.