In the last blog post, I talked about how with the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health professionals are seeing a rise in social-emotional difficulties in our youngest children. Teachers are saying that their kindergarteners are presenting like preschool students and first graders are presenting as kindergarteners…
It’s not a surprise, given that a lot or most of what these children can remember are social distancing, quarantining, and virtual learning. They have not had as many opportunities to practice social skills, be in public settings, and try new things compared to children who were born before the pandemic.
In previous posts, I discussed how to differentiate between typical social development in COVID-19 times and when is there cause for concern. The top 3 warning signs of atypical social development are: 1) Difficulty sustaining interactions with peers they are familiar with (link to old blog post), 2) Anxiety that is negatively impacting daily life activities or social interactions (link to old post) and 3) Big differences in how well your child interacts with peers versus adults (link to old post).
Whether or not your child is showing signs of atypical development, there are a few suggestions that I find are helpful in many young children having social difficulties. Here is Tip# 1: Get to the social event early
For anxious children or children who a little socially awkward, I always recommend to parents to get the social event 5 to 10 minutes early. It could be a birthday party, a gymnastics class, preschool potluck, same rules apply.
There are two reasons why I recommend this. First of all being if you give yourself more time and are less rushed, you will be more relaxed and less stressed and thus your kid will be less stressed. Young kids definitely pick up on the energy and mood of their caregivers and it affects them.
Secondly, it gives the child a chance to warm and get used to the new environment and people, when it is quieter and there are less people. I’ve heard from numerous parents, that their child ends up doing much better at events when they simply bring them a few minutes early versus on time or late. Setting the right mood or tone at the start of a social event can really impact the whole outcome of the event and how the child does.
Stay tuned for the next blog post where I will talk about tip #2 for improving your kid’s social development. If you feel like your young child may need more support beyond general parenting tips and behavioral strategies, we are running a social skills group for kids ages 3 to 5. In the social skills group, children will be given individualized support on how to navigate social situations with peers and manage big emotions.
About the Author:
Jennifer Yang, Ed.S. NCSP is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist with 12 years of experience in the mental health field. She worked with Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) as a clinician in a Comprehensive Services Site (CSS) for special education students with severe social and emotional challenges as well as a Behaviorist in public schools in New Jersey. She also brings to her work her personal experiences of being a Mom to a neurodiverse child with ADHD. Jennifer is currently working under the supervision of Christine Willing, M.Ed., Licensed School Psychologist, to obtain her licensure in private practice as she is transitioning from working in schools to private practice.