Around the world, children’s social lives have drastically changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent physical distancing. For many children, these changes represent major losses of beloved activities, including school, extra-curricular activities, and playdates. For socially anxious children, however, the many cancellations may come as a relief since they no longer need to attend potentially anxiety-provoking activities. As a parent or caretaker, it can be concerning to watch your socially anxious child withdraw during this already challenging time. However, there are many small steps you can take to encourage your child to be social and build skills in this area—even during the pandemic. Why Facing Fears is Important It is important for socially anxious children to practice engaging in social situations, even though it is hard. This is because when children consistently avoid something that they fear, their brain misses out on several key learning opportunities. These include the chance to learn that the situation is rarely as bad as anxiety predicts it will be, that they can handle feelings of anxiety even though they are uncomfortable, and that their level of anxiety will likely decrease if they stay in the social situation. In a socially anxious child’s typical day to day life, they have countless opportunities to practice engaging in social situations to teach their brain these important lessons. By creating opportunities for your socially anxious child to continue to engage with peers in quarantine, you can help their brains continue to learn these lessons. Create a Bravery Plan Sit down with your child and explain that you want to help them boss back anxiety and continue to practice facing fears, as they were doing so bravely before the quarantine started. It can be helpful to reflect together on how they feel after pushing themselves to engage in a social situation. Proud? Accomplished? Reflect back often to these observations to help build and maintain your child’s motivation. Collaboratively brainstorm with your child a list of potential social interactions. Do your best to get creative and try to think of ways to replicate the activities they participate in during their non-quarantine life. These might include (virtual) playdates, book clubs, singalongs, games, concerts, or show and tell with objects from each child’s home. If classmates or peers live nearby, your child might bike, walk, or scoot by their homes and say a physically-distanced hello. After creating a list, let your child choose where they are comfortable starting. It is usually helpful to start small (e.g., saying “hi” over text to someone they are comfortable with) and eventually build to more challenging interactions. It can be helpful to repeat an activity several times to allow your child to get more comfortable with it before moving on to a slightly harder activity. After your child engages in the activity, have a brief conversation to help them notice if the activity was as scary as anxiety said it would be and if they were able to handle it. This brief reflection helpsRead More
About Julia Martin Burch, PhDJulia Martin Burch, PhD is a staff psychologist at the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program at McLean Hospital in Boston. Dr. Martin Burch completed her training at Fairleigh Dickinson University and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School.She works with children, teens, and parents and specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety, obsessive compulsive, and related disorders. Outside of her work at McLean, Dr. Martin Burch gives talks to clinicians, parent groups, and schools on working with anxious youth.
One basic guideline is to ensure that time spent on social media does not replace sleep, exercise, or other healthy behaviors. The current COVID-19 pandemic is creating anxiety for adults and children alike. One major source of anxiety for many parents is the significant increase in daily screen time as grown-ups and children alike turn to technology for education, work, entertainment, and social connection. Social media use is just one small part of how kids are currently engaging with technology, but often feels like one of the more fraught and challenging areas for parents to navigate. How much is too much? How can you ensure your child uses social media safely? Have the rules changed in the “new normal?” This updated post from Magination Press author, Julia Martin Burch, PhD, offers some strategies to manage your child’s social media use in this challenging time. How are you reading this article right now? On your phone? Tablet? Likely because you came across this article on one of your social media feeds. As your life right now likely illustrates, access to screens and, subsequently, to social media has increased tremendously in recent years and is now nearly ubiquitous. Accordingly, children are growing up immersed in a culture in which social connection, information, and entertainment are available at one’s fingertips. There are many positive aspects to the level of connection and access technology and social media afford children, including opportunities to easily connect with friends, and learn and expand their awareness and horizons beyond their local environment. But like with any activity, there can be negative components of children’s access to social media and screens–particularly when it is overused. Research is still being conducted about the impact of social media on children. However due to the pandemic, social media use has now become an important part of daily life. Children across the country are turning to social media as a critical way to stay in touch with friends during the quarantine. While using social media may help many kids feel connected to their friends, some may find it stressful or struggle to navigate it appropriately. Here are some tips to manage the new normal: Healthy Social Media Use Monitoring a child’s social media usage is a huge parenting challenge. Luckily, the principles behind teaching your child how to responsibly use and engage with social media are similar to those you would use to teach your child how to handle any other temptation or challenging situation. Find Balance Think mindfully and proactively about the role you want social media to play in your children’s lives and in your family more broadly. How do you want your children and yourself to balance time spent on social media and screens versus time engaging in other activities? (This may look different than the limits you would set outside of the current crisis). One basic guideline is to ensure that time spent on social media does not replace sleep, exercise, or other healthy behaviors. One step youRead More
We’re all feeling some big emotions right now, as the whole world battles the COVID-19 virus. Adults and children alike are feeling uncertain, anxious, lonely and scared. This is the time to practice self-care skills. Here are some tips to help your child develop self-care skills to recognize and manage their emotions: As parents and caregivers, we can help kids develop strong self-care skills to help them weather adversity and cheer themselves on. Magination Press’s Fantastic You by Danielle Dufayet shows young readers how to develop a positive and nurturing relationship with themselves. In the note to parents and caregivers, Dr. Julia Martin Burch offers strategies to help children build self-care skills that mirror what the kids in Fantastic You do. Identifying Emotions Learning to notice, identify, and soothe their own emotions begins in childhood, but your child will continue to develop these skills throughout their lives. Emotions can be overwhelming to all of us. Young children in particular can struggle to understand surges in emotion and physical sensations that go with them, like butterflies in their tummies or feeling shaky. They rely on you to help them figure out what the feelings mean and to name them. Get curious with your child about what they are feeling. You can ask them what is happening inside their body and if they can name the emotion they are feeling. You can also support them by describing what you see and guessing what the emotion might be that they are feeling. “I see that your face is red and your hands are in fists. When I do those actions, I’m often feeling angry. Do you think that’s how you are feeling?” Self-validation Along with learning to recognize and identify emotions, it’s important for children to learn that emotions aren’t right or wrong, they just are. No matter how big or painful an emotion is, it is a safe and acceptable experience. You can help children by noticing and validating their emotions. For example, you could say, “It's hard that we all have to stay home to beat the virus. That means you can't see your friends. I can see why you are feeling sad.” When children learn to validate their own feelings, it allows them to reduce the intensity of an emotion they are feeling in the moment and builds confidence in their ability to manage their emotions. Self-soothing Help your child discover which activities or experiences help them calm down or feel better. What helps a child feel better will depend on the situation and on the child’s preferences, so explore a lot of different activities. Some kids will find that soothing their senses with music, a hot bath, looking at clouds, or snuggling with a favorite lovey might help. Others might find a project like building a fort or putting on a puppet show is a good distraction. Finding out what helps you self-soothe is an important skill that’s fun to develop. Help your child collect some of theirRead More