- Parents of young kids are worried that their kids' social development will lag as the novel coronavirus closes schools and playgrounds, and makes playdates off-limits, for an unknown period of time.
- Psychologists say parents can help their kids continue to develop by playing with them when possible, and using video chatting tools to stay connected to peers.
- But ultimately, they say, kids are resilient, and that having loving, supportive parents who are managing their own stress matters most for their development.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Jessica Albers can already tell her 10-month-old daughter is an extrovert. She "lights up when she's around other kids," Albers, who lives in Los Angeles, told Business Insider.
So she's especially concerned what will happen now that her daughter can't go on playdates, take classes, or even go to the playground since the novel coronavirus has made those outlets off-limits in order to mitigate the spread of disease.
"There's only so much I can do at home," Albers said.
She's far from alone in her concerns. Jen Judson, a mom of a 16-month-old in Arlington, Virginia, fears her son will become clingy now that he can't see his peers like he used to.
"I'm so worried that when the day comes to drop him off at daycare again he won't remember or go willingly into formerly familiar arms," she said.
Brandon Rindfleisch, a teacher near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, wonders how a lack of speech therapy or music classes will affect his kids, aged two and four. At the very least, he said, he expects his four-year-old will miss his preschool friends soon.
But psychologists say that there are ways parents can help their kids stay relatively on track during this unpredictable time, and that ultimately, having loving, supportive parents who are managing their own stress is the most important thing for their children's development.
"I totally hear the parent's concerns, and I think this is a stressful time for everybody, so it's normal to be concerned," Jen Blair, a clinical psychologist in Gaithersburg, Maryland, told Business Insider. "But I think kids are way more resilient than we give them credit for."
Kids learn skills through play
Roseann Capanna-Hodge, a certified school psychologist in Fairfield County, Connecticut, told Business Insider that after "a few weeks of lack of interaction with other kids, their social skills aren't going to fall apart."
It's also not going to turn kids into clingers for life, Blair said. "Are they going to be more reliant on their parents right now? Absolutely, because they're their main source of social contact," she said. "But I wouldn't be concerned that going to cause more clinginess."
Capanna-Hodge said kids build confidence and independence, and learn skills like sharing and taking turns by playing, whether that's with other kids, their parents, or siblings. And, while parents may think that their toddlers have deep bonds with other tots, they're really just "parallel playing," or playing next to, but not so much with, each other.
As time allows, parents can stand in for peers, then, by building forts and obstacle courses, playing with blocks or Play-Doh, making "art" with shaving cream and a sheet pan, dressing up in "costumes" made from your out-of-style clothes, or involving kids in your cooking, all sorts of activities can be learning experiences.
If you're in an area where you can get outside, challenge them to races up and down the block or play with a hula hoop on your front yard.
"The first thing they need to do is have fun," Capanna-Hodge said. Then, let the kids lead the play ("If they want to play shopkeeper, guess what? You're playing shopkeeper"), but narrate it by asking questions and using "feeling words," like describing how a stuffed animal must feel after your child hugged, or punished, it.
"When you're playing, you're teaching them problem-solving, you're teaching them social skills like paying attention to the other person's facial expression, you're teaching them how to wait their turn and how to handle frustration," Capanna-Hodge said.
Video tools can help keep kids connected
Under about age two, a lack of social interaction isn't much of a concern, Mary Alvord, a clinical psychologist in Rockville, Maryland, and co-author of the "Resilience Builder Program for Children and Adolescents," told Business Insider.
But after that, it is important to find ways to keep kids connected with each, even virtually, since peer relationships are a big factor in how resilient kids become, she said.
"We want social connection with physical distance," she said. Facilitating a game over video chat with a friend or FaceTiming with faraway relatives can help kids flex that social muscle.
The most important thing is to have loving, supportive parents who are managing their own stress
Blair said kids are "reacting to how the parents are responding to this pandemic more than they're reacting to the increase or decrease in activity level," she said.
That's why it's critical for parents to follow the cliche of putting their own oxygen mask on first, Capanna-Hodge emphasized. "Toddlers aren't going to feel our anxiety if we're not a hot mess ourselves," she said.
She recommended scheduling in your own exercise, keeping a routine for your family as much as possible, and trying not put too much stress on yourself to replace all the kinds of interactions your kids experienced daily pre-coronavirus.
While everyone family's situation is different, no one's is the same as it was a month ago.
"[Your kids] are gonna remember how you respond to this pandemic more than they're gonna remember if they had their music classes, they had their speech therapy, if they had their play dates," Blair said. "Just being supportive and patient and loving totally outweighs everything else."
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