Every parent wants their child to have a strong foundation early in life. Whether it’s through their child’s ability to excel in academic environments, meet milestones or even make friends, parents are constantly on the lookout to help their little one succeed.
But what does a parent do when a global pandemic shifts their ability to control how their child develops outside of the home? They do what most parents did last year, provide as much emotional and academic support in the home as possible, and hope for the best.
But now that more businesses are re-opening, parents have found themselves facing new questions; how much did the pandemic really impact my child, and how do I resocialize my kids so they feel comfortable in the world again?
We feel your pain moms and dads, so we set out to find answers to both of these questions.
To our surprise, researchers said the pandemic might not have impacted your littles as much as you think. A recent New York Times article revealed, “The majority of neurotypical kids will be able to socialize just fine… A lot of socialization happens implicitly through interactions with caregivers,” said Erika Hernandez a postdoctoral scholar of social development at Penn State. “Just having conversations with your kids, asking them about their feelings, and setting boundaries gets you most of the way to the socialization they need.”
But if you’re not completely sold on this theory, we did some research to identify the top 5 ways other experts are saying you should support your child this summer as they venture back into the world.
In no particular order, experts say:
In our excitement to get back into the swing of things, and re-start our “old-life,” we may inadvertently rush this process for our kids. We have to keep in mind that even though we’re comfortable spending time with new people in new environments, our children still need to operate at their own pace. Taking small steps with new interactions should also be managed with mini-milestones. Experts say setting small incremental goals can help children feel more in control about facing uncomfortable situations where their initial response may be to avoid.
Go at the Child’s Pace
Another way parents can ease the transition of re-socializing is to start with environments and people with whom the child may be more familiar. Pediatric psychologist Kate Eshleman, PsyD, encourages parents to remember kids need to go at their own pace.
“Kids haven’t had to share with others, and they haven’t had to talk to unfamiliar adults,” Dr. Eshleman says, “so you may see some shyness or kids responding to other people in ways that aren’t typical of how they act around their families.”
A Routine Helps
Whether you want to re-start classes at Gymboree Play & Music, join a play-date group or head to the farmer’s market, other experts say it’s best to create a routine around the places your child will socialize in. Pandemic aside, when babies and toddlers are a part of familiar activities and routines, they establish relationships with familiar people who help them gain a sense of self-confidence. And as older toddlers and young children grow, a routine can help them demonstrate independence.
Listen to Them in Busy Environments
One of the positive benefits children experienced in the last year was more of their parent’s undivided attention. In many cases, they haven’t had to compete with other adults or people to get your attention. As social engagement for your family picks up, don’t forget to listen to your child when other people are around. They need to know you haven’t cut them off now that other adults are around. We found this proven research on the CDC website that gives some examples of how to actively listen to your child so they feel supported.
Try the Scaffold Approach
The concept of Scaffolding is that a light framework helps to support new skills as the child is stretching beyond their current, stable abilities. It teaches kids to reach higher because the scaffolding provides extra support. When the child can do it themselves, the support is removed. And just like a building supported by scaffolding during construction, it stands on its own.
According to Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, author of The Scaffolding Effect, the three pillars of scaffolding are support, structure, and encouragement. At every stage, parents can model and teach positive, prosocial behaviors, give corrective feedback, and boost self-esteem.
In practical terms, Scaffolding means:
- Support your children with empathy, and validation. Assure your child that you understand their fears and concerns.
- Provide security through scheduling. Many of our structural norms — like having breakfast and going to Gymboree Play & Music were upended during the pandemic. You can ease a child’s anxiety by reestablishing old household routines and reinforcing rules more than you have in the past.
- Encourage your kids to put themselves out there. This can be as simple as taking them to the park and encouraging them to play with other kids, or arranging play dates where the kids can interact with other kids to watch a movie, bake or engage in a shared interest or activity.