Coming out of isolation

Some of us have been at home, isolated with our children and families, for a very, very long time. I don’t know about you, but over at my house in addition to a decrease in the general cleanliness of things, everyone’s social skills are in a bit of disarray. Before your children return to the wider world, perhaps a refresher on the basics of politeness is in order? I’m sure things aren’t that bad, but a little attention on these skills won’t hurt either.

Strategies for parents and caregivers to try:

  • Take care of yourself. I know I sound like a broken record, but the fact remains: “You can’t fill from an empty cup.” First thing on the list is to assess where you can carve out some time, attention, and nurturing FOR YOU. You will be more able to connect with your children before guiding their behavior and everyone will be in a better mood because moms and dads set the emotional thermostat in the home. Keeping the “temperature” cozy is so much easier if you’re not depleted.
  • Model the behavior you want to see. If we want our children to listen, share, cooperate, and be polite, then we need to as well. Aside from the typical niceties of “please,” and “thank you,” we also model with our mood, tone, facial expression, and body language. Tuning into these other, nonverbal ways of communicating is vital, especially if your child is young—they are paying very close attention to these signals.
  • Be more present. It’s impossible to nail this one because distraction is inevitable. But it helps to practice being present during certain times of day (meals, bedtime). Turn off your phone, the rest of the screens, and engage. Getting sucked into our devices might be the rudest thing we do (model!) on a daily basis. Pay extra attention to eye contact, physical proximity, and touch as these factors help children feel both seen and soothed—both of which may settle their nervous systems and improve behavior.
  • Beef up your structure and routines. Please know you are not alone if the regularity of your home life has wavered. However, behavior expectations go better if children know what to expect and routines really help with that. The structure of your day doesn’t have to be rigid to be supportive, do what works for you.
  • Pre-teach and practice. Some kids will need reminders and that is OK. Your child may be able to meet expectations more often if you talk about what you want before the time comes for a specific behavior. This is especially true if you are heading into an environment they haven’t been recently. For example, if you’re going to visit (newly vaccinated) grandparents for the first time in a while, a quick overview of what’s different there (no iPad, make eye contact, have a conversation) will help.
  • Make it fun and silly. Social skills and manners need not be humorless. Try exaggerated politeness at dinnertime. Say, “My dear child, would you like some peas with your mashed potatoes? May I please serve you a little bit more?” Or pretend you’re royalty and gush with courtesy, “Excuse me.” “No, you excuse ME!” “Please, YOU go first, I insist.”

Your kids will do great as they head back out into new environments and situations. Even though they haven’t had as much opportunity to interact with peers, teachers, and alternate caregivers per usual, they will catch on quickly and learn a lot.


7 Most Important Social Skills for Children from verywell family

Can Young Children Still Learn Social Skills? from Psychology Today

Sarah MacLaughlin is author of the award-winning book, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children and the recently launched Raising Humans With Heart. Her writing has also been featured in The Huffington Post. Sarah is a human development nerd who brings over 30 years of experience working with children and families to her coaching practice. Sarah is also mom to a teenager who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice.