After more than a year spending time away from other kids, children may have a lot of questions – and worries – about going back to their social lives.
The issue is getting a lot of attention at the moment after society starts speeding back to normal. One recent headline from The Washington Post: “Kids are feeling anxiety as the world opens up again.”
Here’s some of the advice Edwards gives families about helping their children reacclimate:
Be open – and ask open-ended questions
“The biggest thing I tell parents is that we didn’t get here overnight, and it’s not going to be gone overnight,” Edwards said. “It’s going to take time and reinforcement and encouragement.”
Letting your children know that you, too, are feeling some trepidation about returning to “normal” life will be comforting and will help them open up.
When you ask them to share how they’re feeling, use open-ended questions rather than asking something a child could answer with a yes or no, Edwards said.
“It’s interesting the words children want to use,” she said. “Ask things like, ‘What do you think about going to camp?’ or ‘How do you feel about going to the beach?’ or whatever they’re doing. How they respond will drive where you go.”
Talk about the exciting parts, but normalize being scared, too
If you have kids who are naturally shy – pandemic or no pandemic – talk about all of the fun things they’ll get to do at their activities, Edwards said. If they’re going to camp, talk about riding the zipline, or meeting a new friend, or drawing pictures at arts and crafts time.
But don’t discourage their feelings that don’t center around excitement.
“If a child brings up that they’re excited to go, but they’re scared to be away from mom, always acknowledge that is normal,” Edwards said. “Sometimes, young children and even teenagers think, ‘This is how I truly feel, but it doesn’t seem like there’s someone else who feels that way.’”
With young children, you can “act out” the potentially scary parts, Edwards said. If they’re nervous about making new friends, help them think about how they’d approach someone to play with them. Older children may not want to role play, but they can benefit from an honest conversation with you about expectations.
Also, don’t tell children they need to simply “get over” being scared or anxious. It’s not going to help, she said, and will only make them feel worse.
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Remember to keep taking precautions
Parents may also find that their kids are nervous about getting sick after more than a year spent behind a mask has prevented a lot of small illnesses.
“That’s a good opportunity to tell them there are things we can do to make us safe even if we don’t have our masks on,” Edwards said, recommending that parents help kids maintain good hand-washing habits and remind them not to drink or eat after others.
For kids who aren’t vaccinated yet, Edwards recommends following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and continuing to wear masks in public places. But if they’re around a small group of vaccinated adults – like their grandparents or a neighbor pod – Edwards said she thinks it’s OK for unvaccinated kids to go without a mask.
Once their kids are vaccinated, parents should remember that moving away from mask-wearing may be a process. Masks provide a sense of comfort for many kids, and they spent months learning that it was not OK to take their mask off.