Staying Social

Courtesy of American Camp Association

While sheltering-in-place, parents can plan ahead for the best ways to re-socialize their kids.

Family life has changed dramatically in the wake of the worldwide spread of COVID-19. Without the outlet of school, work, parks and other community activities, local families are experiencing more time together than ever before.

Melyssa Zive, program director at Stepping Forward Counseling Center in Yorba Linda, says that now more than ever, effective communication in the household is essential. As a licensed clinical social worker, Zive has over 15 years of experience working with children and adolescents in social skills development and growth.

“Each family member may be experiencing this quarantine differently and parents need to be aware of the thoughts, feelings and emotions that not only they are feeling but each of their respective children are feeling as well and react accordingly,” Zive says.

Sharnnia Trimble, of Irvine, is seeing the effects that the ban on public gatherings is having on her 2-year-old daughter, who realizes she cannot have her usual visits with her grandparents or cousins.

“There’s definitely some pressure to make sure our daughter is still learning and having some interaction with people,” Trimble says.

She says she’s continued to keep her daughter engaged with activities like drawing, baking and painting with family members over video chat. But, like many parents, Trimble wants to re-socialize her daughter as soon as it is safe to do so, with plans for a small celebration on her daughter’s half birthday in August.

Courtesy of American Camp Association

Zive says daily productivity is important during a situation like this because stress in children can result in excessive irritation, unhealthy eating and sleeping habits, difficulty with attention and concentration, avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past, and “acting out” behaviors.

“Mental stress from a disaster can be harder for children. They feel less of a sense of control. They understand less about the situation,” Zive says.

To combat mental stress, Zive recommends that parents utilize cognitive reframing to view a behavior or situation more positively.

Lorraine Di Caprio, of Fullerton, does just that.

“In my family, instead of stressing, we revert to God and prayer to learn that we have no control in situations like this. However, no matter what, we need to stay focused, adapt to change and be positive,” Di Caprio says.

While families like Di Caprio’s are coping at home, the anticipation for local business re-openings means families can have some plan for the months ahead. According to a statement made by the American Camp Association, camps are great practice settings for social-emotional learning.

“After weeks and months spent at home behind computers, kids simply need camp in a time like this. They need opportunities to immerse themselves in a safe, nurturing and fun environment where they can build confidence and social skills that help them thrive in school and future workplaces,” according to the statement.

The ACA focuses on educating camp owners and directors on health, safety and risk management of camp operations with its Accreditation Program. For camps that are not accredited, the ACA recommends following precautionary guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the state health department’s requirements to give children the opportunity to experience and practice social skills in a safe setting.

Camp James Newport Dunes Executive Director Scottie Roach is also stressing the importance of safely socializing kids with peers again by enrolling them in camp programs.

“Being able to reacclimate in an outdoor play environment will help reboot the months of being socially distanced and give kids the exposure to caring adults that are not parents or guardians. For emotional, mental and physical health reasons, human contact will be vital in the development and the sooner that children can start that — in a safe and responsible manner —  the better off they will be,” Roach says.

Zive says that it is important for preschool and elementary-aged children to continue to have opportunities for practicing good sportsmanship, sharing and turn-taking. For re-socializing steps that each family can make on their own in the future, Zive suggests setting up structured playdates in order to monitor the social and friendship skills that may have been lacking during the quarantine.

“We need to trust ourselves as humans, parents and employees,” Zive says. “When something is outside of our control, like this quarantine and pandemic, it is what we can control that shapes our experience and shapes how our children manage this experience.” 

— By Madison Amirehteshami