Improving children’s social skills as in-person learning returns

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — From washing your hands more or maybe having a hard time adjusting to large crowds, there could be some new social and health habits you pick up from being in a pandemic. What impacts will children be facing as the new school year starts?

Child development experts say going into a normal school year can be stressful but when kids haven’t been back in the classrooms in more than a year it could be a lot more difficult.

After months of being in the house, schools going back and forth between in-person and virtual learning, child development experts like Kylie Rymanowicz says children might have lost their feeling of routine and structure.

“We can certainly expect a lot of struggles for many children. Getting them back into not just normal routines with school, but knowing that those routines are going to be in a state of flux I would guess for mostly all of the year. Just based on just happening with a pandemic that can’t be predicted,” said Rymanowicz, early childhood educator, and extension professor at Michigan State University.

Rymanowicz says children need structure, and there are ways parents can help get their kids back into the swing of things.

“As much as you can have a predictable routine at least in some parts of your child’s day. You know routines help children feel safe and secure. Making sure that routine has balance, nutrition, exercise, time outside, things like that are going to help children kind of fill their cup so that when things happen it’s less of a struggle for them,” she says.

She also shares a technique that can help children interact better, modeling friendship skills.

“So you might have a conversation like if you want to ask someone in your classroom to play at recess like what could you say. You can role play and have them practice at home,” she says.

Rymanowicz says if that does not work for your kids in school, act as their coach and find alternative ways to spark conversations.

“When they come home and be like you know nobody wanted to play with me during free play today. We can say whew what did you try, maybe you can try this.”

Also having open conversations about the changes that may come.

“Here’s the plan, here’s how we’re starting the school year. You’re going to get dropped off here, picked up here, you have to wear a mask, you don’t have to wear a mask, and then continuing to talk to them when things change. They have to be quarantined at home because of potential exposure, or if a policy changes. You know being really open and having a dialect like a conversation about that I think is a big part of starting it off,” she says.

Most importantly being supportive, and prioritizing self-care is key.

“Creating a safe space where children and teens feel like they’re supported by that loving adult in their life. Whether that’s a parent or a grandma or whoever it is. So tuning into your child’s mental health as well as your own and recognizing that at some point for your child or for yourself or for both you might need to seek support,” she says.

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