Children are becoming easily overwhelmed by socialization.
Many children have been really baffled.
If your little one is begging to go to the park or to play with friends for the lat 3-months and now that we are actually able to do it…. it is a hot mess! Your child us whining, running away, acting shy or aloof towards others? Or are they showing off and being extremely silly? The list can go on.
What’s happening here?
How can we re-introduce our kids to socialization without having them fall apart?
First, recognize that socialization requires a lot of skills at a high level.
When we’re home with our parents and siblings, and we have a secure attachment with our parents and siblings. Kids will do the same. We rely on our parents and siblings to compensate for our weaknesses.
This is a very specific process called the interbrain connection.
You can think of it kind of like a Bluetooth hookup.
Our brains get in sync with the brains most familiar with. This has survival as well as developmental benefits because it allows our parents and siblings to bear some of our mental load. They help with with the things that are hard to do, which frees up our energy to learn and explore.
Generally level up!
It’s such a cool interpersonal function that we’re capable of.
This does work against us in this instance because we are also not meant to be around our siblings and parents all the time. Even from a very young age, we are mean to speak some of our time away from our family and on our own. This gives us the opportunity to rely on our own skills without anyone compensating for us.
This hasn’t been happening.
Your child has gotten into the habit of having you around to compensate for their weak mental tools over the last three months.
You are now having to re-introduce them into society. They now are dependent on themselves and they haven’t had the opportunity to practice this for over three months.
Three months is a long time, especially when you are 2, 3, 4, 5 or even 6. This is a good chunk of their time.
This is going to be exhausting and it will drain their energy quickly.
This will only result in hot mess behaviors!
Your child has been use to playing at home alone or with their siblings. Now that they are back into society, they have to use so much higher level of energy to be in public.
Second, socializing comes part and parcel with a lot of stimulation.
Entering back into society means your chid has a lot of noise to filter, a lot of social cues to read, a lot fo visual stimulation, extra movement and even extra smells.
Your child has been living in an artificial stable environment for the last three months. They have been forced to stay at home and rarely leave.
The time at home may not have been enjoyable for you or them, but the environment at home hasn’t varied much.
In general, the environment over the last three months has been consistent and predictable.
Now that you are getting back into public, there is going to be a lot to process.
If you are going to the beach fo the first time this summer. You know you will still be physically distancing yourselves, but you haven’t left the house since March.
Upon leaving the house again, not only means there will be other people to look at and reference, but new scenarios to negotiate, new sounds, new textures.
There will be a lot to take in!
This can be overwhelming for our sensory system.
When you haven’t done something in a long time, you get less good at it.
You are then out of practice.
Example: When I used to do early-childhood intervention, I had lightning-fast reflexes. I was used to having children who were in my care bolt on me or jump on other kids or otherwise do things with their bodies that needed to be mitigated.
After being out of that environment for a while, my reflexes got lazy and I’m not nearly as quick as I used to be. I’m not in situations daily anymore where I’m having to grab kids before they run into the street or otherwise try to hurt people or themselves.
When I stopped working with kids in the field, I didn’t find that exhausting at all.
Keeping that level of hypervigilance was pretty normal for me and I was used to it. Now, I still occasionally provide respite for some kiddos who are at very points on the autism spectrum.
While I can do it, I haven’t lost that skill, I find it exhausting now. It isn’t something I do frequently anymore.
This is the same idea with your kids. It’s not that they can’t do it. It’s that they’re out of practice and aren’t used to doing it quite so frequently anymore.
Your kids are melting down because socializing is exhausting them much quicker than it typically would have before the pandemic.
While they’re excited to see their friends, get out of the house, start engaging in some aspects of life again, this doesn’t change that doing those things is going to be very draining for them.
Suggestion: reintroducing yourselves to society slowly.
If you’ve introduced a family to your social circle, meet up for a 30 minute play date to start.
Don’t go straight for a full afternoon, because that’s unlikely to end well.
Once that’s going well, lengthen the time.
At first, you might also want to have longer periods between socialization.
You might consider meeting up for a 30-minute play date, and then go a couple of days before trying it again.
This will help your kids get more proficient at socializing again.
You can shorten those in-between times down till you can see people daily or multiple times a day for longer periods of time.
Second recommendation: keep the demands outside of socialization pretty light.
When you are reintroducing yourselves and your child to other people, keep those days light. Don’t plan a play date and then expect your child to be able to come home and play with themselves quietly for 2-3 hours while you have a conference call.
This will not happen.
Consider allowing for screen time during your conference call.
If you are meeting people at the playground, don’t expect your child to be able t wait patiently for food when you get home. They will be going through all their energy while in public.
At home you will likely have to compensate more than you normally would on a regular basis.
Once things start to level out, then you can start fading your compensation at home.
Keep your eyes open for patterns in your child’s behaviour.
If your child went into the pandemic with a weak skill and you haven’t been actively supporting them in practicing that skill while at home. It’s unlikely that it’s improved under these circumstances.
You should focus on identifying and supporting their skill development through play will make reintegrating into society much easier.
Practice makes perfect.
The more you practice, the better you get at it. It doesn’t take a tonne of time.
Parents can see improvements in their children’s skill use and therefore behaviour with as little as 10-minutes of practice a day.
If that sounds scary and overwhelming, you are not alone. I walk you through this in Parentability, step-by-step.
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What do you think?
Do you have a bit more of a game plan for starting to reintroduce your kids to other people?
Is this something that’s causing you anxiety?
Do you have other strategies that you’ve been using successfully?
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