One of the largest changes during the Covid-19 lockdown measures, was having children sit in front of a computer screen all day for school. Then “after school” the screen time either continued with after school activities administered online or they would come out of their bedroom, into the living room and unwind. This may even involve getting on their iPad. It was a surreal existence for school to end when the laptop closed and for that to be their social interaction for the day.
Research shows that when on Zoom, we spend the majority of the time actually looking at ourselves rather than the speaker. This may explain why so many young people would opt to turn their camera’s off (as well as the additional benefit of being able to multitask on more sensory stimulating activities such as gaming) and why young people have become much more self-conscious.
In addition to the attention demands of online studying, young people lost out on over a year and a half of building their developmental and necessary social skills. After spending over a year staring into a computer screen, either looking at themselves or doing a solo activity, there has been a lot of important time lost. Social skills are primarily learned through in vivo observations and interactions with peers.
Over the past 6 months, I have observed a significant decrease in young people’s social skills and the ability to manage social interactions. This is creating an increase in social anxiety. Here are some skills to practice with your children that can help them lower their anxiety levels and increase their social skills:
1. Eye contact
When speaking to your children, make sure you are giving them your full attention and eye contact. This will model the correct communication skill as well as get them comfortable maintaining eye contact (something they haven’t had to do for a while!). Eye contact is extremely important as it allows us to read the speaker’s face and pick up on non-verbal cues of communication.
Make sure your child allows you to finish your sentence before they start speaking and vice-versa. Although this may seem like a rather basic skill, online ‘chat’ communication doesn’t follow the same rules as in-person speech. When we allow children to speak over us, we reinforce impulsivity and can inadvertently stop children from listening to what you (and everyone else) is saying. This has the potential to create conflict.
3. Say what you see
Because there is very little behavioural feedback through online communication, simply labelling what you see can equip children with the ability to pair their external bodily cues with their internal emotional states. Saying things like “I can tell you’re angry because your hands are tied up into fists and you’re using a louder voice”, will help your child start to notice their own body cues and regulate themselves when you’re not there.
4. “I-statements” with Why statements
In moments of conflict or simply navigating more difficult conversations, rather than reacting to what is happening, label your own emotions and tell your child how you feel. “I feel surprised that you’re (describe behaviour)” and follow it up with why you think it’s happening. “I noticed you were playing really well until someone took your toys and then you made an unexpected choice.”
The ‘I-statement’ can use more emotion-based language as you’re telling your child the emotional effect their action has had. Following it up with logic helps children understand why. This helps pair your reaction with the events you perceived lead up to the said reaction. This kind of communication and emotional nuance is lost online, so having an adult break down the cause and effect of behaviour and emotional consequences can provide the scaffold for children to develop their own understanding and connect the points.
Ultimately, children were hit the hardest during Covid-19. The lockdown measures took away their routine, sense of normalcy and the chance to master developmental milestones. Helping them by supporting these skills at home and then giving them the chance to practice them with their friends in “real life,” will help make up for lost time and allow them to have more confidence in social interactions, and within themselves.