Friends in Need – the Impact of Social Distancing on Children
Social interactions are an important part of childhood development. From an early age right through to teenage years, children learn social skills through interactions with their peers; such as how to communicate, listen, share, set boundaries, and resolve conflict.
After months of lockdown, social restrictions and school closures, it is understandable that some parents have concerns about the impact limited social interactions are having on their children’s social and emotional development.
While play and socializing with friends are critical components in the emotional and behavioral development of young children, they are also thankfully, very resilient and adapt easily to change, especially if their parents remain steadfast, and are not anxious about the situation. Relationships and interactions with family members in the home can facilitate the continued learning of critical social skills. Encourage sibling play, and make time for games, conversation and shared quiet time with your young children. Use technology to connect with their extended family and friends; a video call with grandparents or a recorded voice note from a school friend will do wonders to lift their spirits.
Dealing with not being able to see and socialize with friends in person is more difficult for adolescents. Teenagers often prioritize spending time with friends above family, and studies have shown the importance of peer acceptance and peer influence on their mental health. Fortunately, digital technologies and social networks can mitigate the negative impact of social distancing for this age group. Parents should appreciate the role these online channels play in helping their children cope, but remain wary of the potential risks associated with reckless or excessive use of these tools.
No matter what age, children will take their lead from their parents or the people they trust. Stay positive, don’t panic and catastrophize the situation, and communicate with your child; creating a safe space for them to speak about their feelings and fears. Although for them, the last few months seem to be a large portion of their young lives, this too will pass, and with your guidance and support, they will be just fine.