The pandemic really did a number on our kids, didn’t it? They went for weeks, sometimes months, without seeing people other than their immediate family members. They had drive-by birthday parties, weren’t able to go to school, and sometimes the most interaction they got with people was at the grocery store! As parents, we can’t expect this to not impact their social skills and how well they relate to other people. If your child has had some difficulty socializing with others this year, you can help them get back into the groove. Here are 4 ways to improve your child’s social skills.
Have Regular Playdates
Playdates are a great way to build your child’s social skills. The more interaction your kids have with peers (of various ages), the better! To set up a playdate, start by asking around at your church or your child’s school if there are any other moms who would like to have a playdate. (We recommend starting small and having just one family over.)
When they come over, set some toys and activities out and encourage the kids to play together. Be prepared for squabbles, trouble sharing, etc. This is normal for most kids and it is certainly normal for kids who just went through a pandemic! If an issue pops up, calmly re-direct or instruct gently, then let them continue playing.
If it has been a while since your child has played with other children or perhaps they were born during the pandemic and you’re just now comfortable with playdates, be extra patient. Their social skills will improve with time as you give them the chance to practice.
Be prepared for squabbles, trouble sharing, etc. This is normal for most kids and it is certainly normal for kids who just went through a pandemic!
Give Your Kids Opportunities to Connect Casually
Outside of playdates, give your kids a chance to connect with other children in casual settings. For example, taking them to the playground, the library, a park, splash pad, or pool will give them opportunities to meet other kids and play without the pressure of a friendship. If the kids hit it off and you enjoy chatting with their parents, future playdates can be set up. At the very least, your child had a chance to stretch their social muscles.
Don’t Let Separation Anxiety Hold Your Kids Back
It’s okay to say “yes” to situations that stretch our kids. Don’t hesitate to send your kids to camp, VBS, or church nursery on Sunday mornings just because they cry when you leave and have a hard time saying goodbye to you. It can be difficult to do, but when we “let go” of our kids and let them have these healthy, normal experiences without us, their social skills and confidence will grow.
Learn the Difference Between Challenging and Pressuring
As parents, we ought to challenge our kids to get outside their comfort zone and get to know their peers. But we have to be careful that we aren’t inadvertently pressuring them to be someone they aren’t. LearningLinks.org says,
“Every child socialises in a different way. An introverted child might tire quickly when in busy and loud social scenes, whereas an extraverted child might thrive in them but dislike quieter or intimate spaces. Don’t force your child into social scenes that they’re not comfortable in, give them chances to learn at their own page, in their own time. After all, we crawl before we can run, so these baby steps into bigger social situations are important.”
Bottom line: take time to get to know your child and their unique personality before you work on their social skills. Plan activities with other families with their personality in mind. And remember, be patient with them as they figure out how to navigate social scenarios.