Developing Social Skills While Social Distancing

Developing Social Skills While Social Distancing

Photo by cottonbro

If your child had been working steadily on social skills before schools closed, extracurriculars vanished, and playdates ground to a halt, you might be asking yourself, “Well, now what?” Many parents are citing frustration and concern about their children’s social development in an age where socializing is extremely limited. The good news is there are plenty of ways to fill the void and help your child continue to make progress…

Stay Connected

A helpful way to think about what we are doing as a society is not so much that we are “social distancing” but rather that we are “physical distancing.” There are still plenty of safe ways to engage with people outside of the home, and maintaining a strong network of support is helpful for everybody in the family.

  • You may already be on this train, but virtual play dates are all the rage! With free videochat options from FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Zoom, kids can get together with one or more peers for some good old fashioned bonding time. There are plenty of web sites that offer fun activities kids can do within video chats (some include Caribu, Messenger Kids, and Jackbox Games), but you can also help your kids come up with fun games they can play with their peers without depending even further on technology. For example, they can have scavenger hunts (e.g., “Find something in your house you’ve had for over 5 years and tell the other person the story of how you got it!”). Other ideas include playing “I Spy”, putting on talent shows, and even writing stories together (each person takes turn writing one sentence!).
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood
  • A great way to help your children think about and stay connected to others is to write good old-fashioned handwritten letters to loved ones. You can encourage your kids to share stories about what they’ve been doing since they’ve been home and think about what messages they’d like to send to family and friends near and far.

Learn Through Play

Photo by cottonbro

There are plenty of games (that you may already have!) that actually require a lot of social thinking skills. So time to whip out the board games and plan a family game night!

  • Apples to Apples is a great game for four or more players where players are given a prompt and have to pick from a set of cards in their hand which one best matches the prompt. The tricky part is that the person who decides the winner is a “judge” that rotates every round. This game actually requires a lot of perspective-taking skills. Your child will have to think about who is judging each round and what they know about that person in order to predict how they will behave. For example, if mom has a great sense of humor, they should play a funny card. If dad is more serious, they might try to pick a more literal descriptor. To encourage these skills even further, have each “judge” explain why they picked the card they did, so that your child can learn how each player thinks differently!
  • Guess Who is another game that encourages good social skills. Your child will practice thinking objectively about the characters, using deductive reasoning to come up with helpful questions, taking turns, and tolerating frustration if they lose.
  • Charades or Celebrity are games you can play anywhere, anytime, that also build social skills! In order to be effective at these games, one must be able to communicate skillfully while observing the rules (e.g., in charades, you have to communicate only using your body, not your words). Your child needs to think about what they know about their partner that might help (for example, if the celebrity is January Jones, it really helps to know that dad’s birthday is in January!), and they need to be flexible if they pick a strategy that just isn’t working.

More Directed Activities

And if you’d like to go a little further, you can engage your child in some of the same social skills work that a therapist would! Following are a couple of activities you might try.

  • Read books together about different social situations. Ask your child questions about the characters, what they felt during different events in the story, how their actions affected other characters, etc. A favorite book that encourages prosocial thinking is Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller.
Photo by Gustavo Fring
  • Have practice conversations. Help your child learn to have a balanced conversation by sharing information about him or herself and also asking appropriate questions to learn more about the other person. A fun way to develop conversation skills is to play a game where the goal is to have as long a back and forth conversation as possible. Stack tokens or blocks every time someone makes an utterance that keeps the conversation going, and see how tall a tower you can make! If your child has trouble moving the conversation along, pause the game and help them think about a question they could ask or a comment they could make that would help the tower grow taller.

What About You?

Finally, the best way to help your children with their social skills is to examine your own. How do you make friends? Handle conflicts? React in awkward situations? What can your children learn from watching you?

Although opportunities to be physically near others are limited, opportunities for socializing are everywhere. So fear not – with a little creativity and an open mind, you can help your child keep up all the great work on their social skills!

About Sasco River Center

A multidisciplinary practice offering a range of diagnostic and therapy services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families; specializing in Collaborative & Comprehensive Testing, Psychotherapy & Sensory Processing.

We are a merger of Sensory Kids & The Southfield Center for Development