With schools closed and children unable to play together like before, social disconnection can be an especially big challenge for kids in elementary school.
To help parents and caregivers of young children during the pandemic, the Social-Emotional Learning Alliance for Newton Massachusetts held a virtual meeting May 27 focusing on issues from anxiety to social disconnection in children.
Jeff Lemberg, is an educator, founder and executive director of Waban-based nonprofit Boys for the Better, which aims to help male-identifying students to develop social and emotional skills. He said older siblings who attend middle or high school are more receptive to taking their work online and interacting with social media, but connection can be much more difficult for younger children.
While elementary school students have Zoom opportunities to meet with their peers and teachers, some of them don’t want to join and feel nervous to engage, said Melissa Greco, who has taught second grade at Angier Elementary School for the past nine years.
Mitch Lyons, president of the Alliance, said as parents better understand social and emotional learning — how to communicate and interact with others and how to recognize moods — they are more likely to help their children maintain social well-being.
Sally Mazur, a social worker in the Newton Public Schools, told parents in the meeting how some feelings such as sadness and anger are normal reactions to this abnormal situation. She said putting feelings into words is a good way to ease kids’ worries.
Greco said pictures are helpful for children who can't find words to describe their emotions. She also suggested worry jars as a helpful way to ease anxiety. She said parents can ask children to describe their feelings and put worries into a worry jar, so they can better understand their kids’ concerns and be able to discuss and respond to them.
Lemberg said parents also can use screen time as an opportunity to address worry. For example, children interested in “Daniel Tiger” or “Ice Age” see how the characters are in a situation where they are having a hard time, and parents can talk to children about how the characters navigate difficulties.
Greco suggested bringing children together for Zoom gatherings with a theme, such as LEGOs or coloring and art. She said this allows children to see each other, play on their own or collaborate with each other, and having a more directed theme in virtual gatherings can lead to more organized and organic virtual communication.
In the meeting, Mazur said many parents worry that their children’s study will slow down or fall behind.
But everyone is facing the same problem now, she said, and there is trauma. When the brain is traumatized, mental abilities shrink, she said, so she does not think this is not a good time for traditional education. Social-emotional well-being is more important than getting work done right now, she said.
As a parent of two daughters, Lemberg said his third-grade daughter has learned to take more responsibility, such as making some of her own meals. School closures also might be a chance for kids to see the type of work their parents or caregivers do for a living.
Lemberg said parents seemed especially concerned about the cancellation of summer camps. To help create a physically and mentally healthy environment at home, he suggested play and pointed to how kids could kick around a soccer ball from a safe distance.
Asked about what to expect in the fall, Lyons said he, like everyone else, is waiting for the government’s decision on whether or not schools would resume.
“Planning for the worst, hoping for the best,” Lyons said.
Peiyu Ma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.