Humans are eminently social species, and young children need social interactions just like adults. Social interactions are necessary not only to help children learn cultural values, social norms or socially accepted behaviors but also to help children develop their social-emotional well-being, which plays an important role in the development of lasting and meaningful relationships with other children and adults.
From a developmental point of view, socialization in the early stages of life is of utmost importance, as it has been shown to have long-term effects throughout life, not only in the socio-emotional area but also in the cognitive and physical area. Children, like adults, need positive social interactions to develop healthy social-emotional well-being, as the absence or lack of such social interactions could jeopardize children’s well-being.
Based on research on social isolation, children may experience some of the following signs and symptoms during their current confinement.
- They may develop feelings of sadness or insecurity, anger, frustration, or boredom.
- Children can display disturbing behaviors and sleep disturbances.
- Children can develop high levels of stress from high cortisol levels as a result of another “risk” day from the pandemic.
- Children can develop early signs of anxiety that result from constant preoccupation with cognitive restlessness to avoid contracting the virus, or even depressive symptoms that result from a constant state of sadness, dejection, or lack of motivation.
- They can also wet the bed or have nightmares, be more clingy or naughtier.
- Children may change their eating habits or show little or no interest in talking.
Additionally, research shows that these signs and symptoms can have a negative impact on children’s self-esteem and self-efficacy, which in turn can weaken the immune system.
Recommendations in Supporting Young Children’s Socioemotional Well-being
Although the above signs and symptoms can be observed in children in the current situation, it is important to recognize the role of other variables that could mediate such effects- including but not limited to cognitive coping skills, the quality of the relationship between parent and child interaction, media exposure and children’s knowledge of the current situation among other things.
By analyzing these mediators, specific recommendations can be derived from the existing evidence on social isolation.
- First, it is important to remember that children use their cognitive resources (e.g., previous experience, knowledge and information, social relationships, emotional connections with important adults) to understand their world by interpreting the events around them.
- Second, it is important to support young children in different ways so that they feel safe and with giving developmentally appropriate information they can use it to understand and cope with the current situation
Needless to say, one of the most important strategies for these are listening to children’s perspectives in order to gain a more accurate understanding of their interpretation and thus, experiencing the current situation. It could also be a means through which adults can successfully help children make cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes to support their social-emotional well-being. This could serve as an essential basis for the implementation of new strategies.
The following strategies are intended to help adults, caregivers, teachers, parents, child psychologists, and other professionals help young children navigate their current situation, support children’s social-emotional well-being, and avoid other negative effects.
- Identify and recognize own emotions
- Help children understand how they feel and to share their feelings
- Give your child voice where you can
- Children need to feel safe and secure
- Observe changes in your child’s behavior
- Keep a positive attitude
- Create a loving and caring environment
- Monitor or limit media exposure
- Take care of your own mental health
- Stay in touch virtually
- Model appropriate coping behaviors
- Understand the difference between social distancing and physical distancing