Family, Kids & Relationships

How To Support Kids’ Social Development at Each Age – Even When They Can’t See Their Friends

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As social distancing and virtual learning continue, many parents are worried about their kids’ social development during the pandemic. Helping our kids with social development now can help them form relationships and reconnect with others once they’re back to school and normal routines. Here are some tips for how to make sure your kids get what they need socially, while still keeping physical distance.

Age 3

Your little one is learning how to cooperate with others in some really important ways. Three year olds can now understand the concepts of “mine” and “yours,” which makes it a big year for learning how to take turns and play simple games with others. Here’s what you can do:

  • Play games together that let your child practice taking turns. Play hide and seek. Take turns hiding a treasure for the other to look for. Create a new dance move and teach each other. 
  • Compliment them for being cooperative — “I love how you handed me the bean bag when it was my turn to toss it!” And be sure to point out when they do a good job sharing. This is a great way to get them ready for preschool… where sharing is the name of the game.

Age 6

Kids this age are super into practicing skills so they can get better, and a lot of times they do it by copying adults (even when we’re not at our best). Kids at this age like to play alone, and yet friends are becoming important. Here’s what you can do:

  • Try to carve out uninterrupted time each week for just the two of you when you can give your full attention to your child. Let them make a weekly list of things you can practice together (which might mean you learn to look for diamonds in Minecraft).
  • It’s also a great age for parallel play. Set up an outdoor play date (or video would work great, too) for a little show and tell. Your kiddo and a friend can each come ready to teach each other a new skill, step by step. 
  • Give your little detective lots of chances to show you what they can do. Remember, it might change day by day (their brains are supercharged right now), so ask them each day what they’ve been working on and learning — they’ll love that you want to learn about what interests them. 

Age 9

At this fun age, your child can recognize specific characteristics about their emotional self, and they’re learning how to take another’s perspective (hmm, maybe it’s not all about them!). They are also starting to recognize more subtle emotions like disappointment, resignation and resolve. Here’s what you can do:

  • First, look for chances to help them reflect on their own thoughts. Then, ask them to imagine what another person might be feeling. This can help them develop empathy and practice thinking about situations from other people’s point of view.
  • Talk kids through your own thinking and feelings, too. Helping them understand others’ experience is great practice for empathizing with peers.

Age 12

Your not-so-little kid is starting to engage in more complex thinking and developing their own unique view of the world—even if it seems they’re completely influenced by their peers. Don’t worry if you’re starting to get fewer hugs and ‘I love yous’ from your tween. You’re not alone! Less affection at this stage is totally normal (and even healthy) as they figure out who they are. Here’s what you can do:

  • Try to connect with and engage your child in conversations about what’s happening in the country and the world right right now. Make an effort to ask their opinion—knowing that you genuinely care what they think boosts confidence and helps them open up even more. Encourage them to think independently and develop their own ideas.  
  • Being at home more could mean more convos about real life stuff—like racism, climate change and the effects of the pandemic. Having these kinds of interactions with you can help your tween settle into their personal worldview… definitely a powerful thing to learn!

Andrea is a mindfulness and yoga teacher, as well as an independent education consultant in Washington D.C. with expertise in child development, social-emotional learning and personalized learning. Andrea formerly lead a $500 million program for the U.S. Department of Education but still talks about her first job as a high school dropout prevention counselor.