As we reach a new phase of the pandemic, we may find ourselves struggling to re-engage with the world and return to some sort of “normal.” The adjustment from staying home, away from friends, family, and group activities, to navigating social interactions once again is anxiety-inducing for many, including children.
According to a survey from summer 2020, over 45 percent of adolescents reported symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. Fear about the coronavirus is a big contributing factor to young people’s angst, but they are also facing frustration, boredom, insomnia, and inattention.
Here are a few strategies parents and guardians can adopt to support children during this difficult transition.
Handling your child’s worry. It is normal for children who are leaving their bubbles and re-entering public spaces to worry about contracting Covid-19, and parents should listen to these concerns while expressing understanding in an age-appropriate way.
If you notice that your child is excessively washing their hands, sanitizing their space, or refuses to go to safe public spaces, then make sure to have a discussion with them about the difference between appropriate and excessive safety precautions. Remind them that as the situation evolves and our understanding of the virus grows, it’s important to adjust our safety strategies accordingly.
Set incremental goals for social re-engagement. Getting accustomed to in-person environments will not be a uniform experience for everyone. You may have one child who seems to adapt quickly and seamlessly, while the other may need extra reassurance as they transition. If your child expresses concern about face-to-face interactions, simply lending an ear to their worries and clearly expressing empathy can help ease their stress.
For an apprehensive child who isn’t ready to socialize indoors with a group, a good strategy to employ is to take baby steps by first organizing a one-on-one, outdoor playdate. Setting achievable goals can help children feel more at ease about engaging in social situations that they may instinctually want to avoid.
If your child isn’t ready to take on in-person indoor interactions yet, acknowledge this and allow them to take the time they need to become comfortable with the concept. When faced with a social situation, help your child cope by discussing how they have handled tough transition periods before, like their first day of school. Talking about similar experiences that they’ve overcome can help them shed some anxiety and develop more realistic expectations about socializing.
Maintain a routine. Some children have grown used to a less cluttered schedule and more downtime, so shifting back to a more active schedule might leave them feeling drained and overwhelmed.
Help your child create stable and healthy routines that include a regular sleep schedule, healthy meals, breaktimes, and schoolwork. This fortifies their sense of stability after a period of uncertainty.
Most children, with the support and positive attitudes of their families and role models, will bounce back and adapt to the new normal. It may take some time, but the mental and physical well-being of our children is certainly worth the effort.