You grew up running home as soon as the school bell rang, and after a quick snack, you went back running to play with your friends. That routine helped you be more outgoing and extroverted. And now with no school bells and play friends, your kids’ day begins and ends on the computer screen, and they are lacking in building social relationships. So how can parents make it easier on their children? 

In conversation with TC46, Dr Kirthika Rajaraman, Consultant Developmental Paediatrician of Motherhood Hospitals, Bangalore shares the importance of building social skills and awareness. She also shares 6 tips that can help develop social skills in a child. 

1. COVID-19 and the lockdown has affected a child’s socio-emotional development

When COVID-19 came into our lives suddenly, our life came to a halt. The whole world went into lockdown and more importance was paid to keeping everybody inside their homes to limit the contraction of fatal infection. This also led to children not being able to attend their schools to learn. And they missed out on the opportunity of practising very important foundational skills like executive functions, organizational skills, time management and social skills like social awareness and relationship building. Although we agree that it is not their fault, we all feel that this hinders socio-emotional development.

2. Children with a lack of social opportunities can get clingy and develop a temper 

Due to the lockdown, children were stuck at home and could not attend school, playgroups or go to the park to play with their peers. While everyone including the parents was only worried about academic improvement and studies, they must also nurture social and emotional competencies. Skills like emotional self-awareness, self-management of emotions, perspective taking help children prepare for an independent living. Foundations for these socio-emotional competencies are laid during social interactions. These social-emotional competencies are strengthened when children have daily opportunities to practice them through play and by interacting directly with their environment. Lack of social opportunities and structured routines of schooling in the past year has created a lot of boredom in children. This has resulted in frustration (manifested as temper tantrums), more clinginess to parents, more addiction to screen time which in turn decreases social skills further. If a child is not skilled in his/her social abilities, they may not be able to face changes and new challenges in their way with self-determination and resilience. It is very important for one to possess social skills to survive in this modern world. 

3. All children are different, hence their reactions to different changes can vary  

Generally, children can face new situations but they just need some time to adjust. And need supportive adults to help them in the process of accommodating. Children who are at a younger age are malleable and can mould themselves according to new situations with a little help. But some children might not be able to deal with sudden changes and may show anxiety. Medical help can be sought if anxiety is not settling with repeated gradual exposure. Learn more about covid anxiety here. But overall, there is no correct answer as all children are different and hence their reactions will be different.

4. Parents should be role models to their children, support and nurture them to learn social skills

Parents need to be sensitive to the fact that children have not been out in the real world and have not had too many new experiences. To help children increase their social skills and socio-emotional competencies, parents should be inclined and open to making them socially skilled. One of the best-known ways for children to learn these skills is for them to have good role models (parents and caregivers) around them who support and nurture them through their actions, communication, and attitude. 

They can take out time from their daily routine and have a quality talk with their kids. Talking about their day’s events not just at a factual level but by sharing their feelings through the events helps in leading by example. (I was tense during my meeting, I called myself through self-talk, telling myself that I can handle it/ I was very bored since we could not go out anywhere, I thought I could engage myself by baking this cake for you all). 

Creating an environment where a child can express any feelings without being judged or scolded goes a long way in reducing unacceptable behaviour. Encouraging children to practice letting out anger, disappointment, sadness using their words guides them in handling these emotions in a real-life situation. Parents can model maintaining social connectivity and family fun time in virtual mode(video calls). 

5. Kids can have interactive sessions like storytelling or Zumba 

It may become difficult to interact with one’s peers through Zoom and Google Meet, especially for young children in kindergarten and primary schools. Making personal connections in online mode can be difficult for younger children, but it can be encouraged by asking them to switch their videos on so that they feel a more personal touch. The kids can have separate friendly chats online apart from their academic classes so that they can bond by doing fun activities together (kids Zumba, interactive storytime) and get to know each other well. School teachers and parents can facilitate this.

Expert Tips To Develop Social Skills In Children

  1. Social bonding time within the family: Parents can have dedicated time with their kids where they can as a family together learn a new skill (baking, gardening, playing a musical instrument) or have a fun time (dancing/ board games). This also creates an open environment for the child to express what he/she feels in a way acceptable to others (choose words that are helpful, not hurtful).
  2. Family chore time: As a family unit, every day a chore can be done. This helps in improving organizational skills in children and also improves family bonding. They also establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships based on cooperation and at the same time negotiate solutions to conflict and seek help when needed. 
  3. Being vocal about emotions: Parents can have feeling related vocabulary words written on slips of paper or on the fridge magnets giving a chance for children to rehearse using emotions related vocabulary in daily conversations. Converting the fights and conflicts into teachable moments helps children to develop values and healthy coping mechanisms. In a larger picture, they gain knowledge about handling their own emotions in relationships effectively and make decisions responsibly. 
  4. Regular video calls: Regular virtual family or friends meet, in which children are also encouraged to socialize and not shy away.
  5. Socialising during class: Teachers can try and help the class children to socialise other than academic time. Teachers can create opportunities for children to self-express themselves through artwork/public speaking opportunities. 
  6. Letting children speak for themself: Parents must let the child try to speak for herself or himself rather than making the child rehearse the scripted notes suggested by parents.
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