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One of the challenges that parents have shared about the continued pandemic is the issue of how to maintain proper relationships and socialization for their children while remaining safe.
Socialization is extremely important to development, especially for very young children, according to the experts consulted by the New York Times. Between the ages of two and five, children are picking up on major moral reasoning from their peers. While this is normally handled through play-dates and participating in daycare or schooling, it is becoming increasingly difficult to give children the opportunities they need to grow while maintaining proper protocols during the pandemic.
This isn’t to say that children will be unable to develop or face major developmental hurdles because of this. Most children will still be able to learn the skills they need from responsible adults in their lives, although it may take longer for those skills to set in. Still, the opportunity to interact with other children is obviously important to many parents.
Many parents have started to rely on a method of quarantining called a “pod.” A pod is a group of up to twelve individuals across up to three households that isolate together in order to be able to socialize freely within the pod.
This method is not sustainable for many reasons. t relies on the complete isolation of several separate households, many of whom have adults that continue to go out to work or on various necessary errands. While this can be managed in a single household by simply limiting contact with that individual and enforcing stricter sanitation practices around them, it is far more difficult to rely on separate individuals to maintain the same level of hygiene for all family members.
Additionally, if a single member of one family does become infected, this will cause up to three separate households to have to completely isolate, thus breaking the pod anyway. It means that anyone and everyone that has come into contact with any pod members is (at least potentially) at risk, and the more people there are in a pod, the wider the fan of infection will be.
We never wish to frighten our children, and yet, it’s valuable for them to understand the quarantines and the risks that the virus presents.
If you haven’t done this yet, this is as good a time as any to sit down with your children, and calmly explain to them what a virus is, how it spreads, and how they can help to keep others safe by staying home as much as possible and when it is necessary to go out, wearing a mask, washing their hands, and maintaining social distance.
While it may look like a herculean task to maintain a child’s attention and social development when they can’t physically interact, there are a few ways that you can help your child maintain an active social life while in quarantine, as long as they are done in a safe manner.
Showing your child how important family dynamics are during this time can be an excellent way to alleviate some fears about their development. Have your child take a more active role in caring for the family pet. Allow your children to work together with their siblings on tasks, and help the adults in the house with chores in a more hands-on manner. Dr. Deborah Phillips suggested to the New York Times that parents allow younger children more responsibility in things like planning meals or doing and sorting laundry, as well as spending time reading with them to focus on naming and recognizing emotions in themselves and others.
On top of the emotional benefits, this time spent together can be psychologically beneficial to both of you. A study from the American Psychological Association found that participating in activities such as reading together as a family and doing specific, goal-oriented chores helped not only the children but the parents involved in the activity to feel better overall about their relationships with each other. These activities help children develop the ability to focus on extended tasks
Schedule and host play-dates with children in your community. This can be done via Zoom or similar video calling technology. You can host regular storytimes, lead crafts, have show and tell, or simply allow your children to play while talking to their friends.
It’s also worth emphasizing the importance of quality communication over the quantity of messages. In an article for The Conversation, Elizabeth Englander, Professor of Psychology at Bridgewater State University, recommends encouraging your children to write longer, more infrequent messages to each other to maintain a deeper sense of connection, especially if they are feeling burned out on these virtual platforms with online education.
While ideally, you will want to keep your children completely out of contact with others during the quarantine to prevent the spread of the virus to or from members of your family, it may significantly reduce the stress that both parties are under to set up properly cautious cooperative play outdoors.
Some outdoor activities can be done safely while social distancing. Consider going on a walk or hike with another family, playing games that can be done over a distance (such as corn hole or croquet) while frequently sanitizing, or having children play in separate, designated areas where they can see each other and talk from a safe distance.
Above all, the focus of this time should be on keeping yourself and your children safe. Lead by example by wearing a mask in public places, maintaining social distance, minimizing unnecessary travel, and practicing proper hygiene in washing your hands frequently and using hand sanitizer.
It’s also important to remember that this is a difficult time for everyone, including small children. Try to have extra patience with your kids, and understand that they may display stress differently than an adult would.