After nearly 18 months of off-and-on lockdowns, restrictions and limited socialization, the shift back to life as we knew it pre-pandemic may feel more like a jolt. For children and teens, a year-and-a-half stretch can feel much longer than it does for adults, and some parents are concerned the pandemic may have long-lasting or permanent effects on their kids’ mental health.
However, children are also highly resilient. Some experts are suggesting that with the appropriate coping mechanisms and supports in place kids will come out on the other end of the pandemic stronger and more adaptable than ever before.
As children and teens get back into the swing of things this fall, there are a few things parents can do to support them along the way. Shantelle Bisson, a parenting expert and the author of Parenting Your Teen Without Losing Your Cool, offers her tips for helping your child resocialize effectively post-pandemic.
Bisson recommends slowly easing back into socialization before school starts by planning small play dates or gatherings outside the home. This way, children won’t be overwhelmed by large crowds when returning to school because they’ll have been exposed to small groups incrementally beforehand.
“It’s all about baby steps and getting back into social circles slowly,” Bisson says. “This way they’ll begin to integrate back into society and relearn things like sharing and taking direction from other adults.”
She also recommends enrolling your children in sporting activities or day camps for the final weeks of summer to help them reacclimate to being outside of their immediate bubble.
Validate their emotions
Although some children will find the return to school easier than others, many will find it anxiety inducing. Bisson says validating children’s emotions is essential, but it’s also important to take steps to help put their mind at ease.
“Acknowledge their fear and worry and where they’re coming from, but try to reassure them that everything will be okay,” she says. “It’s our job as parents to find creative ways to put their mind at ease.”
If your children are prone to separation anxiety, Bisson recommends taking them to the school or playground they’ll be returning to beforehand so they can grow accustomed to it as a safe space and build an association with it as somewhere they can have fun and feel at ease. This will help to mitigate the unknown factor and, as a result, minimize a child’s fear of being somewhere unfamiliar.
Open the floor for communication
Developing an open and honest dialogue with your child, no matter what age, is a crucial component of raising healthy, well-adjusted adults, Bisson says. She recommends asking your children open-ended questions about how they’re feeling in order to engage them in a positive way and show them you care.
“I encourage parents to be in strong communication with their children and ask them questions like, ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘What are you thinking?’ ‘How do you feel about school ending the way it did?’” Bisson says. “It’s important that we give them the opportunity to express their feelings. Internal emotions that aren’t addressed can manifest into other things like eating disorders and self-harm because they don’t know how to express the pain they’re in.”
It can be tough to vocalize painful feelings or thoughts, especially if your child is not used to communicating so candidly. But you can set the tone for future conversations by making it clear that it’s a “no-judgement” zone. Encouraging honesty and openness will only benefit your family down the line.
For many teens, the pandemic meant missing out on milestone moments like prom, graduation or months of practising their favourite sport. Giving them a chance to express themselves and communicate freely about their emotions will let them know you’re in their corner and that it’s safe to speak their mind.
The adjustment back to so-called “regular” life won’t happen in a day, but providing support for your kids now will help make that transition a little easier.