As Caregivers of small children, we never could have predicted 3 years ago that we would be here. Kids were pulled from all social interactions with the anticipation of 2-4 weeks of staying inside and then we would all return to life as normal. We all know now in 2022 that did not happen and what started out as a couple weeks of staying away from school, activities, and loved ones turned into years for the majority of the world.
Now over 2 years out from the initial lockdowns we are beginning to see the effects of these policies that were not intended to originally last more than a month. Ask any teacher how their students are doing and you will most likely get a long sigh of exasperation. Kids are struggling with emotional, mental, physical, and social development in areas that we have not seen before. We have Kindergarteners who have never attended school in much larger numbers than is typical. Teachers were spending the first half of the school year teaching kids the very basics of classroom etiquette. My children’s teachers and friends that are educators have recounted experiences of spending ¾ of the school year teaching children to stand in lines, put their items away, how to share, how to play, how to handle themselves in school. One teacher even talked about increases in regressive behaviors such as multiple potty accidents happening daily.
These developmental struggles for teachers also translate to the playground. Kids who have had few options for social interaction outside of family are now expected to enter a world that is unknown to them. So how are the kids really?
Unfortunately, hard numbers and research are still coming, but anecdotally and observationally, kids' social skills in particular are not where they would have been for the same age groups 3 years ago. Concepts like taking turns, waiting in line, and other common social interactions such as how to make new friends may not have been nurtured to the same extent that they normally would be. According to (1) Lacey, Kumari, and Bartley (2014) social isolation can have numerous disadvantages including lower educational attainment, socioeconomic disadvantage, and many adverse physiological and psychological effects. This study focused on long term disadvantages of social isolation across the age spectrum.
A newer study (2) by Almeida et. al. (2021) looked more closely at the more immediate effects of social isolation on children and teens development and noted a strong correlation between increased anxiety, depression, and worse cognitive development in kids and teens who have experienced long term social isolation. All of this can be tied back to increased cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone that is released during times of stress and is associated with depression after long periods of exposure. While these stats may feel overwhelming and concerning there are numerous steps that we as caregivers can take now to lessen the negative effects of social isolation:
- The first step in supporting our children with any developmental opportunity is to first be aware that it exists and to acknowledge where your child may need more scaffolding before feeling confident. It is also important to note here, that while prolonged social isolation can create social skill gaps, children are incredibly resilient and are great at adapting to new routines and environments.
- Be present and active in how you address the areas of opportunity. Skill building through connection, interacting, and reflection ala The Slumberkins Routine can help to build the emotional and social foundation for better mental and emotional wellness. Slumberkins stories such as Hammerhead, Lynx, Bigfoot, Unicorn, Otter, and Narwhal can help children to understand social concepts such as empathy, collaboration, flexible thinking, authenticity, and setting boundaries. These wonderful stories and affirmations are a simple way to introduce these concepts through our loveable creatures and to support your child’s social skill development. Our newest Camp Slumberkins Hero Camp was designed specifically to address these social skill gaps with a fun story and fun interactive activities.
- Find spaces and opportunities for peer interaction for your child. It doesn’t always have to be preschool, daycare, or expensive activities like gymnastics or karate. There are tons of wonderful opportunities at local libraries, small museums, local youth programs such as the YMCA or The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, or even going to a playground and letting your child interact with all the other children. These shared experiences can help even the most anxious child open up.
- Offer your child and yourself some grace. We have all just lived through a once in a lifetime event that flipped the entire world upside down for years. It is ok to not be 100% mentally and socially. If you feel that your own mental health or your child’s has been affected by the pandemic you are not alone and seeking help from a therapist or other mental health professional can be a wonderful way to find connection and support for your whole family.
Drop a comment below with some of your favorite local places to help your child gain peer social interaction and stay tuned for more socialization tips from our amazing Slumberkins Hero Camp!
(1) Lacey, R., E., Kumari, M., Bartley, M. (2014) Social isolation in childhood and adult inflammation: Evidence from the national child development study.
(2) Almeida, I., L., Rego, J., F., Teixeira, A., G., & Moreira, M., R. (2021). Social isolation and its impact on child and adolescent development: A systemic review.