For preschool aged children, half of their lives or more have been during COVID-19. They have lived in a world of masks, social distancing, and during parts of the pandemic have gone months without seeing other children or adults outside of those in their household. Their first school experiences have been atypical as many have never experienced in person school and were homeschooled or attended virtual school.
As a result, many educators, parents and mental health professionals are reporting that many children are struggling with social skills and interacting with peers. Teachers are saying their 1st graders are acting like kindergarteners and their kindergarten students are acting like preschoolers.
As an early childhood therapist, a few of the questions I get asked most often are: is my child typical? Is he/she just a COVID baby or should I be concerned how he/she is acting with other kids? While there is no clear-cut answer that fits every child, there are some guidelines and signs to look for that may indicate your child needs additional intervention or professional support.
Sign # 1 that your preschool aged child’s social development may be of concern: Difficulty sustaining interactions with peers they are familiar with.
Many parents report that their preschool aged children who have grown up during the pandemic are clingy and shy. Being more reserved and slower to warm to others is expected as they have not had many experiences being around strangers.
In fact, for many of the children, they have learned that strangers mean danger. COVID-19 is invisible, and you don’t know who has COVID and who doesn’t, so best avoid everyone.
However, I start to get concerned when parents tell me that their young children, have difficulty playing or interacting with kids they see on a regular basis, like classmates, family friends or neighbors.
· Sometimes, they will avoid all interaction with familiar peers.
· Other times, they will not respond when a familiar peer repeatedly initiates play or conversation with them.
· Some children will engage in play with a peer, but they have difficulty sustaining that interaction.
o He or she might have one back and forth conversation and then the interaction stops.
o He or she might talk non-stop to a peer and seem like a chatter bug, however when taking a step back, you notice that the child is talking at a peer versus to a peer. The child’s conversation might be about a topic only he/she is interested in and he/she might be obvious that the other peer does not care about the topic at all.
Raising a preschool aged child is not easy, but raising a preschool aged child during COVID-19 times can be an extra challenge. At Think Happy Live Healthy, we are here to help. Stay tuned for the next blog post and sign #2 that your child’s social development is of concern.
If reading through this post, you found yourself thinking, “Wow, this sign sounds a lot like my child” please feel free to reach out to us. We are starting a social skills group for children ages 3 to 5. More information can be found at https://www.thinkhappylivehealthy.com/groups
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.