Let’s face it. This school year promises to be like no other. Since your child will probably be spending most if not all of the year participating in virtual school or distance learning, it is more vital than ever to find creative ways for your child to develop and practice social skills.

While the most natural way to develop these skills is to spend time with peers, for many of us this option is currently unavailable. But don’t despair. By thinking outside the box, there are some great ways that you can teach your child social skills during the quarantine as well!

A variety of social skills are addressed in videos to be found on YouTube, Nearpod, and other sites. Often these videos demonstrate a particular skill, in addition to various ways that the situation can be handled. It is important to remember, when searching, to narrow down your search by focusing on a specific topic rather than searching for “social skills.”

Books are a wonderful way to introduce those concepts involved in social skills and to start conversations about them. Try to focus on a different skill each week and explore that with your child through books. Picture Books such as these are very effective with young children.  

When reading books with children, parents should inquire about the characters’ feelings. Use the reading time as an adventure to explore your child’s feelings and perspectives on life. You can ask how your child might have chosen or behaved when confronted with a similar situation.

A critical social skill is the capacity to pay attention to another when interacting with that person. A long-term study of more than 300 teenagers found that those with the heaviest screen use were also the most likely to focus on their own needs, instead of those of the other people they were interacting with. Other research indicates that this self-centered behavior tends to lead to more social problems.

Seeing this from a positive perspective suggests that regular, daily activities devoid of technology help children focus in general, as well as pay more attention to other people. A practical application could be for the family to spend time together, such as cooking meals, gardening, or playing a game together. These experiences help kids to maintain the social skill of paying attention to others.

When children interact with peers and teachers in school they learn to read facial expressions and body language, what is considered appropriate give-and-take of conversations, and how to initiate or change topics of conversation. Having such encounters regularly is an important way that children learn how to meet and greet people. While some of this can be compromised in virtual encounters, parents and other guardians can take steps to preserve a child’s social skills in this area as well.

There are online activities that can help kids practice perceiving another person’s emotions by looking at that person’s face. An example of this is the “Eyes In the Mind Test,” which requires a person to look at a picture of someone’s eyes and then guess the emotion that is being expressed.

Another helpful activity is having the child write letters by hand (the old-fashioned way) instead of relying on electronic devices. Through letter writing, parents can encourage their children to initiate new friendships in faraway places through “snail mail,” by utilizing a pen pal website. This will build conversational skills as writing the letter will involve posing questions such as asking about favorite activities and foods.

It is important to explain to your children the difference between brief messages or posts and longer communications. While brief messages are fun, the feeling of a more meaningful deeper connection only comes from something that is longer and more thought out. Encourage kids to write less frequent, but longer missives to their friends to help keep the relationships strong.

Despite the constraints of socially distancing, children still have the option of connecting with their friends outdoors, which is safer than being together indoors. Arrange outdoor visits that will keep children and teens and their friends six feet apart from each other and require them to wear masks.

You can bring Social-Emotional Learning into the daily routine by injecting emotionally focused questions into your everyday conversations. Asking questions like, “How are you feeling?” or “How would your brother feel if you did that?” causes children to think about feelings and send the message that awareness of feelings is important.

Aside from questions, brainstorm projects that highlight the importance of empathy or kindness. Parents can discuss with their children ways to show empathy and kindness to others in their community or neighborhood who may be suffering more loss during the pandemic.