How can you help your child blossom socially?

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How can you help your child blossom socially?
© (photo credit: CHEN LEOPOLD/FLASH90) A GRANDFATHER welcomes his grandchildren back home in Ramat Gan.

Emotional processing and the social world of children bothers every parent during routine times and even more so during this pandemic. A speech therapist explains how parents can help kids, and what must be avoided.

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Following the arrival of the Omricon variant, there has been a rising concern surrounding the potential return to remote learning, yet educators have warned us about this shaky emotional and social situation for Israeli students. There is no doubt that now, facing a great deal of uncertainty, many parents are quite concerned about the social and emotional state of their children.

It is important to remember that one’s socio-emotional state includes many individual, interpersonal and group skills with the help of which the child is able to manage emotions and cooperate with friends. This ability begins to develop as early as infancy and plays a significant role throughout life from early childhood through adulthood. Socio-emotional ability is manifested in making connections with friends; understanding, regulating and expressing emotions; developing academic skills and motivation for learning; developing relationships and dating; finding and retaining work and more. When there are problems in the emotional-social realm, it can affect these important aspects.

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The environment close to children – parents, the family, the educational framework and friends their age – are of great importance in the development of emotional and social abilities. From an early age the child receives support from parents, family and educational staff for desirable behaviors, both directly (“Say thank you”, “Don’t hit”) and indirectly through watching the adult and imitating them. For example, a girl who sees her parents cut in line at a store or behaving rudely towards others will learn to do the same.

Through the environment the child also learns to express emotions. For example, a parent may see a toddler erupt in anger, lying on the floor and crying, and interpret the situation by saying, “you’re angry,” thus giving the child words to express the emotions so that in the future this child can regulate their emotions and say what they feel instead of erupting.

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Children playing together is also very important in the development of emotional social skills because by playing in a group, the child learns the desired rules of behavior in the game – how to engage friends, how to join the game, and so on. While playing with friends, one learns to express feelings; sharing these with friends helps children to share their own feelings and those of others, and at a later age also to process how they feel about events.

Along with the impact of the environment, as children grow they’ll better understand the demands and expectations of the environment and implement them. For example, a young child can tell a grandmother that the food she made isn’t tasty, while an older child will learn the rules of tact and understand that it hurts her feelings.

How to help children develop their emotional social world

Use emotional language: Naming different feelings the child experienced (the sadness after you lost a game, what fun to win, etc.) helps children understand what they’re feeling and express it verbally instead of acting out.

Consistency

Maintaining desirable and undesirable rules of conduct and consistency is very important. If the rule at home is that one may play computer games only for an hour a day but in reality the child plays for longer, the message to the child is that rules aren’t ironclad and are meant to be broken. 

Personal example

Our behavior is a role model for children. An environment that gives a good role model (relationships with friends, helping others) will cause kids to internalize these rules in their behavior, compared to an environment that gives a bad model (like lying, or bypassing a queue).  it’s important to note that sometimes the behavior may confuse the child. For example, a child who on the one hand hears the statement “it’s forbidden to lie” and on the other hand picks up the phone and the parent says “say I’m not here” receives a message that the parent doesn’t meet the expected standards. 

Creating opportunities for meeting friends

Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to allow children to experience playing games with different friends and not necessarily with the only friend with whom it’s comfortable to play and with whom there is a regular pattern of play. It’s also important to play various games and not necessarily stick with one game. This can help develop interpersonal relationships and skills.

And when there’s difficulty? 

In recent years, the field of treatment through social groups has been gaining momentum. The treatment is by various professionals, especially by speech clinicians, occupational therapists and therapists from the psychosocial field. In these groups, kids play with friends within a small group led and mediated by the caregivers. Within the group, opportunities are created for dealing with social situations that challenge the participants – how to join in the fun? How to suggest ideas for a game? What do you do when you don’t agree on rules? How are disagreements resolved? What do you do when you lose? What do you do when you’re angry or offended?

A combination of a supportive adult environment that gives kids social rules while socializing with kids their age can lead to the development of emotional and social skills that will serve kids throughout life and help them become adults with the ability to connect, collaborate with others and process experiences throughout life.

The author is a speech therapist and lecturer in the Department of Communication Disorders at Hadassah Academic College.

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