No sports clubs. No music lessons. No playgrounds. No friends.
It’s not just school that kids lack lockdown, it’s the daily interactions and casual conversations that teach social literacy.
And while many children are obviously eager to return to the seomra ranga, others may feel anxious to find the exuberance of a classroom after the cocoon of home.
So what has been the effect of confinement on softer but no less essential social skills?
And how can you help?
Food writer Caitriona Redmond and her husband, John, have two children, Eoin (12) and Fionn (9). They live in North Dublin, where the boys typically attend Gaelscoil and enjoy an assortment of extracurricular activities, from runs in the parks to ukulele lessons.
But not since December.
“They really struggled socially, not seeing their friends, their family,” Caitriona says. “My brother-in-law lives next door and my sister lives three doors down. But the children cannot play together. They don’t even see their cousins unless they pass each other on a walk.
” It’s difficult. For them, from a social point of view, we are very concerned about how it will play out when they go back to school.
Prolonged lockdowns, it seems, would strain even the most devoted family ties.
“Sometimes it’s a bit like the Peaky Blinders same where Cillian Murphy says to the boys: “No fight”, “No fight”, “No fight”. I have to separate them. They are the best of friends, but the worst of enemies. I keep thinking, “How are they going to deal with the conflict? They are brothers and boys and no matter how hard I try to stop it, they will end up tormenting each other. I have to put them in separate rooms – we’re lucky they have separate bedrooms anyway.
Caitriona felt that there were more dating friends online for Fortnite Where Rocket league during the first confinement.
This time, she says, additional education and online courses helped to make up for it.
“We are a household with additional needs, but we have, on average, three Zooms per day, either a one-on-one with a learning aid teacher, a classroom lesson or an assembly. “
In recent weeks, she says, her eldest son has participated in a series of Zoom workshops run by the local Foróige.
“He did tech for teens, build rhythms – which shows them how to make music – and a HIIT class. It has been excellent.
Even where there are more siblings to play with, irreconcilable differences can arise, as was the case at Kellie Kearney’s home in Dublin. She and her partner have five children, ranging from 1 to 10 years old. Kellie is in charge of social media and manages the Instagram account @mylittlebabog.
“It’s a busy household. Four and five year old Kasey and Kenzie are best friends. Frankie (6) is the only boy so he feels like he’s stuck on his tod. Everyone wants to play dolls and Barbies and do makeup and fashion shows. He wants to play cars, he wants to play miniatures. It is therefore very isolated. He needs interaction with the boys.
To ease the fuss, Kellie relaxed the screen time settings.
“Until March, we had imposed a time restriction on their iPads to 20 minutes or half an hour, but since then everything has been lifted. It’s hard to admit, now it’s a bit of a scrum.
Both families, however, report unexpected positives.
In the Redmonds, Caitriona’s husband John, who is a bus driver on leave, has had more time to spend with his sons. Halfway through, they spent every day together in the family garden.
“His hours as a bus driver are long. Normally in winter he would leave when it was dark and not come home until nightfall.
“But every day halfway through, he’s been out there with the kids for at least four hours, so it’s amazing to see the relationship he’s built with them.”
Meanwhile, many of the Kearneys’ extended family are working in health or social care facilities and have therefore completed their immunization schedules.
In Kayla (10), this sparked a frenzy of scientific research.
“Kayla wrote down who got which vaccine and how well each one worked. She says, “This person got the Pfizer vaccine and this person got the Oxford vaccine, so this person is X percent more protected.” Now she says she wants to be a nurse. She is totally fascinated by Luke O’Neill from Trinity. She has her book. She says: ‘He talks a lot of common sense.
How to improve communication and socialization skills
“Social interactions are important parts of development throughout childhood and it’s not available at the moment, but the point is that children are resilient and adaptable,” notes Dr. Vincent McDarby, clinical psychologist and President-elect of the Psychological Society of Ireland. “They learn from parents, they learn from their siblings, and they even learn from technology. It is important that parents do not catastrophize or panic. There is no evidence that a few months of social distancing will have a negative long-term impact on a child’s development.
However, if you are worried that children will withdraw or become anxious, here are some professional tips on how to help them.
“There are things parents can do to encourage the social development of children,” McDarby says, “like discussing emotions with them, as young children may not yet have the words. This helps identify the labels. A good time is when you read stories to ask, “How does this child feel or how does this character feel?” It can be on TV, Netflix, or YouTube.
Karen O’Connor, speaker in play therapy at MTU (formerly CIT), says it can be difficult with smaller children who have “acted like every day is Christmas” in confinement. She suggests going back to a structure now.
“Start setting up bed times and getting up at a normal time. Arrange meals at the same time so that the day is more normal for them before they go home. Mentally, this will help them prepare them.
She also says it’s good to fall back on technology, even with smaller kids.
“Let them play a game or discover something new because it helps build their world and gives them news. “
Some social interactions are missing, but kids access them elsewhere, McDarby says.
“Normal interactions outside the home may be limited, but this has created opportunities for other meaningful interactions with the family. Children learn wherever they are and with whom they are, so it is important for parents to focus on the benefits children get from spending time with them.
But it’s good to start normalizing more independent behaviors.
“Things like tying their own laces or cleaning the dishes after a meal. It builds confidence and self-esteem. If there are people calling at the door – even the mailman – get the kids involved and have a chat. Encourage this level of social interaction and engage them in the conversation yourself, even the little ones. It will help them when they return to school.
O’Connor says parents need to be aware that for some children, school is a stressor.
“They might not be the smartest in the class and the kids are always comparative. It could be the child who does not finish his work on time in class, when when he is at home, no one knows when he is finishing it.
“If they find peer interaction difficult, if they have a hard time making friends, they may have a little more separation anxiety when it comes to going back. “
She advises starting to talk to kids about what they’re looking forward to for the school day, reminding them to meet their friends, and fun activities to allay their worries.
It’s normal to worry about teens whose world might be considerably smaller now, McDarby says.
“Think of the kids coming home after summer vacation, in some ways it’s a good comparison. Some may not have talked to school friends much over the summer. Some people may be a little nervous that they’ve missed something. Children tend to settle very well after these periods.
“Teenagers frustrated at not being able to see their friends can learn from their parents how to deal with stressful situations,” says O’Connor. “It’s good to remind teens that, ‘Okay, sometimes we all lose our temper.’ And show them how to handle it – go for a walk outside, even around the house. Get some exercise. Parents are role models for their children, so now is a good time to learn this skill.