How can parents support children who are missing their friends – and what impact is this likely to have on their social development?
By Diane Curtis, Thrive
Peer relationships are a vital part of children’s social and emotional development, and they play an important role in mental wellbeing. So, as parents, we need to do everything we can to help mitigate the impact of this loss during the Covid-19 pandemic.
We’ve all experienced the loss of freedom and social activities in the last year. We know how it feels and the strong emotions it can bring up. But, for children, this sense of loss will be intensified. For most, the last year has been the longest period of time in their lives that they have been away from friends, family members and trusted adults like teachers.
I hear about these concerns in my role as Relationship Manager at Thrive. We work nationwide, training teachers to support children’s emotional and mental wellbeing, and working with schools to support families and carers.
Parents must make time for self-care
The best advice I can give to parents is to look after themselves first. It’s really important that their own emotional needs are met so that they can, in turn, support their children.
You can’t pour from an empty cup! Parents have been coping with a huge amount for the last year. Therefore, they really do need to make time for self-care; things like a quiet cup of tea, meditating, reading a book, walking the dog, or watching their favourite TV programme.
Keep smiling behind the mask
Age will be an important factor in determining how to help children to maintain friendships.
It’s easy to focus on the needs of older children because they are often better able to verbalise their feelings and needs. But it’s important to remember that the first two to three years of a baby’s life is the most crucial period of development.
For babies, seeing the smiling, positive faces of the adults around them is an important part of development.
Face masks will be affecting this, so we must do the best we can, using our eyes and voices, to convey that the smile is still there – even though they can’t see it.
Other suggestions for younger children could be things like going for a family walk and saying “hello” to people to help keep the social engagement system activated, while still following the rules.
Connecting socially in other ways
In my family, we use FaceTime as a way of maintaining regular contact. During lockdown situations, when we are not able to meet in groups, it is an effective way to offer face-to-face contact, albeit through a virtual medium.
The phrase ‘social distancing’ has been used a lot over the last year, but we should think of it as physical distancing while we continue to connect socially in different ways.
For older children, things like phone calls and online meet-ups with their friends can be very helpful.
There is also a role for gaming here, however, there’s obviously a balance to be struck and long periods spent alone at a computer is not going to help feelings of loneliness and isolation. It’s about parents finding the middle ground and agreeing a time limit with their young people.
Triggering positive emotions in tough times
When things are tough, looking back at photos of holidays or outings can be a good way of triggering feel-good chemicals in our brains.
Alongside this, making a jar of wishes for children to write down the things they miss most can be a good reminder that the restrictions are temporary and that we will, eventually, get back to normal.
Of course, it’s then really important to remember to go back to the jar, when restrictions are eased and it is safe so that you can help children to realise their wishes, if possible.
Returning to school and the longer-term effects
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will be with us for some time yet and parents should be alert to their children’s emotional state so that they can offer a listening ear and support if needed.
When schools return to normal, parents might see unexpected behaviours, especially as children try to reconnect and re-establish friendships.
Children may not be able to voice their feelings so they may come out in behaviours such as being more argumentative or shouting and lashing out. Or parents might see children not wanting to go back to school or not talking as much as usual.
The way to respond to this is to weave in frequent opportunities for connection. Talk to them as much as possible and be curious about how they are feeling so that our children and young people know that someone is there with them – and for them – no matter what else is going on.
For more information about Thrive – a business that works with schools to help children to become more emotionally resilient – visit: thriveapproach.com
By Diane Curtis, Relationship Manager at Thrive