Recently, I was talking with a friend about my son, Avery. Avery is a Covid baby, since he was born in May 2020. She noted that it must be so scary for him to see people in masks all the time and I responded by noting that this is really all he has ever known. It's not scary to him - it's the norm. He never knew life before Covid.
Then we started talking about how maternity leave isn't what I thought it would be. No classes, no parties, no play dates - even some of my family hasn't held him yet! Then it hit me. How will this child be able to socialize or even develop proper social-emotional skills if this is his foundation? He barely sees other children. The only family he sees are those within our bubble. Everyone else he sees typically wears a mask or face covering.
Let me start by saying that Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is at the core of who we are as people, and is the foundation for successful learning for children. If your child does not have mastery of their social-emotional skills, learning becomes that much more difficult. Imagine trying to learn long division when you can't cope with the frustrating social situation that occurred at recess time. Kids fall apart if they don't have the tools to cope with situations as they arise (and they WILL arise!).
Traditionally, kids learn their social-emotional skills through modeling and opportunity for practice and correction during things like dramatic play or scenarios. Adults help them to shape their skills by aiding them in recognizing or naming emotions in themselves and others, and giving them tools to manage these emotions as they come. For example, you tell your child that you are leaving the park and they start to get upset. As the adult you can help them manage by saying something like this... "I can see your face is getting red, tears are in your eyes and your voice is loud. I can see that you feel mad or frustrated. It is disappointing that we have to leave the park now and it's okay to be upset about it. Before we go, let's take some time to take 3 big belly breaths. During each big breath we will count to 4 on the way in, and 4 as we blow the air out. You can pick a spot to sit and do them. I can do them with you, or you can do them on your own - your choice! When we are done our big belly breaths we will start our walk home and we can talk about when we will visit the park next". You named their emotion, validated and gave a tool for coping. You didn't give in or lose control of the situation - in the end, you still left the park without negotiation. However, you helped them work through their frustration and gave them an opportunity to control how they did it (If you know me, then you know I love giving choices!).
With time, exposure and practice (and a lot of patience), children can develop the skills they need to manage themselves successfully and independently in their world. These skills will follow them well into their adult lives! As always, some children need more support with this than others.
So for our Covid babies and toddlers at home during this time - how is a child supposed to learn social-emotional skills if they see covered faces 90% of the time? The traditional cues we use to identify emotions are hidden - smiles, frowns, etc. The importance of identifying different emotions and dramatic play at home has become even more important.
Social stories are a great tool to use to model social situations. Click here for a link to a site with free printable social stories that you can use at home! You can even make your own with pictures of your own children to make it more meaningful and relatable.
SEL-focused games are great too! Here are some links to a ton of games you can play at home that focus on Social-Emotional Learning!
Providing your child with a toolbox or following a program such as The Zones of Regulation, or Superflex can be great ways to give children the language to express how they feel in a way that they understand and can relate to.
Lastly, scenario or dramatic play can be a very helpful tool for modeling social situations! This can be done with dolls or action figures, dress-up or acting. Children can learn empathy by running a vet clinic in their home, or model a situation between two dolls that get in a disagreement over a turn-taking game. As the adult, you can help guide the situation and model how to solve it! Even sitting with your children as they play and coaching them or mediating through a disagreement will help them learn the tools they need to navigate their social worlds.
Helping your child develop their social-emotional skills will help support them in their learning, and will most certainly help them cope with the continued stress of Covid-19. If you are seeking extra support, or would like to connect for more resources, please do not hesitate to reach out!