Socialization is a critical component of young children’s development. Finding opportunities for safe interaction during COVID-19, however, can be a challenging task. After nearly a year of social distancing to mitigate the spread of the virus, many are struggling with pandemic fatigue. During this difficult time, children can grapple with disrupted routines, emotional challenges, and feelings of instability.
Safely socializing within a “bubble” or “pod” is an option that some families have chosen, but there are ways to connect with people outside of this group. Implementing new and different socialization strategies can help children develop emotional intelligence and relationship-building skills while feeling less isolated.
How does socialization impact children’s development?
Interacting with others in school, family, and social environments helps children to understand behavioral cues and relationships. By hearing and participating in conversations, they are able to build speech and language skills. This communication provides exposure to new and varied outlooks. Having the opportunity to interact with diverse perspectives is a crucial element in developing an understanding of inclusivity.
Utilizing Technology to Stay Connected
In-person gatherings may be limited, but video calls can keep children connected to others. Virtual meetings with classmates, friends, and extended family members allow children to stay connected to parts of their routine that have been disrupted. They also offer a sense of normalcy and combat fatigue.
There are many accessible online activities and games available for children too. However, it is important to be cognizant of screen time (especially in the era of virtual learning).
Encouraging Children to Play (and Partake in Playtime)
Playtime promotes critical thinking skills for young children. They engage their senses of creativity and imagination. It can also be educational and fun. Challenges like puzzles or card games help develop math skills and spatial awareness.
Another benefit of playtime is that it creates valuable bonding opportunities with those in a child’s bubble. Instead of neighbors or classmates, toys—such as stuffed animals—can provide companionship during indoor play.
Playing outside allows children to stay active and explore new environments. Organizations like Let’s Play America aid in planning virtual and outdoor play events that can safely bring communities together.
Establishing a Pen Pal
Children can write letters to their loved ones or friends, thus developing communication skills and fostering connections. Writing to a pen pal is an activity that parents and children can even engage in together! Parents can stay informed and assist children with language and grammar. An added benefit is that children can work on their handwriting.
Having a pen pal creates personal communication with someone outside of a child’s immediate bubble. Many people also feel handwritten messages are more meaningful than virtual ones. This exchange can be an especially great option for grandparents or family members who live far away.
Reading SEL Stories
Reading books with children that contain social and emotional learning (SEL) messages is a way to promote development at home. SEL stories feature important themes such as responsibility, compassion, self-awareness, and inclusion. Exposure to them benefits students in school and in interactions with others. Families can read SEL books together and discuss significant takeaways.
In-person socialization is not the only opportunity to promote relationship-building, behavioral understanding, and emotional intelligence among children. These are just a few strategies that can introduce variety, stimulate development, and reduce feelings of isolation in uncertain times.