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The Main Benefits of Social Play: How to Overcome Childhood Social Anxiety After Lockdown

Thursday, 28 May 2020  |  Admin

Those of us with developed social skills will find it easier to get back a semblance of normal, but what about younger children who are still developing these all-important emotional skills?

In this article, we’ll look at how the lockdown has affected child development, we’ll explore the developmental and social benefits of play, and we’ll address how you can help your children overcome social anxiety.

So, if you’re looking for some advice on childhood social interaction in post-lockdown life, let’s get going…

How has the lockdown affected children?
• UNICEF has said that the UK lockdown could cause over 700milllion days of cumulative education to be lost this school year. That’s a staggering amount of lessons not being learned
• Around 2million young people are staying in vulnerable households with drug or alcohol abuse, domestic violence, or serious mental health problems within
• Children are being left out of decisions that affect them
• Their mental health is suffering
• They’re not able to spend valuable time playing and making new friends.

All of these issues could have serious effects on a child’s life. And the longer this lockdown goes on, the harder it is to see how children will deal with them in the long run.

There haven’t been any academic studies on this topic yet, so no one is sure of the effects of long-term social distancing on children’s development. The best we can do is be prepared to provide all the support they may need when lockdown lifts, and try to mitigate the issues as much as we can at home.

Why is social play important for child development?
While solitary play is great for building confidence, humans have been developing skills through social play and outdoor recreation since time began. It’s a major developmental tool and this (necessary) lockdown is depriving children of that. Normally, social play helps kids interact with each other – it helps them develop social skills and become more mature.

This is certainly true in group play in school. For example, the social interaction acquired through play on large outdoor equipment teaches children life lessons, social norms, and helps them learn about co-operation, negotiation, and language skills.

Why is social play important for childhood social anxiety?
Social play can also help in overcoming social anxiety and shyness if a child is starting a new school or if they’ve been on an extended break – like a lockdown.

Some symptoms of social anxiety are:
• Difficulty sleeping
• Behaving clingy and irritable
• Lack of confidence trying new things
• Difficulty concentrating
• Angry outbursts
• Avoiding social situations

School Playgrounds are considered safe, fun spaces. They’re built using a range of equipment and create group games to reduce anxiety and give all children a choice. A wider variety of options which caters to both solitary and group play is even better.
The important thing is that they all children have choices and can develop at their own pace in a safe environment.

Life after lockdown for children – what you can do
Dr Yvonne Skipper, Psychology Lecturer at University of Glasgow says, “Kids are used to having some time to themselves so hopefully if it is only a couple of months, they will pick up their friendships where they were and it should be OK”

This could be true for most, but anxious kids may not react the same way. Being in lockdown has restricted their access to playground equipment, socialising in groups, and the resulting social interaction benefits. Plus, when schools do reopen, be it in June or later in September, there will be additional post-lockdown restrictions in place that could exacerbate their feelings of worry and fear.

Every child in the UK not in school is missing out on valuable development opportunities due to the lockdown, and lifting it won’t solve everything. But there are things you can do at home to help ease the transition and prepare them for any added anxiety.

1. It’s important to keep talking to children to help them manage their expectations of social situations after lockdown.
2. Don’t be afraid to talk to them. Be honest about the situation and what going back to school will entail. You could even roleplay and act it out to increase their confidence.
3. Ask your kids if they feel lonely, tell them they’re allowed to feel that way.
4. Organise video calls with their friends to help them stay in contact and reduce their anxiety about seeing them face to face
5. If you do organise video calls and they’re still withdrawn, introduce activities they can do together with their hands, like colouring or playing with a toy they both have.

This advice on maintaining social interaction through social play and managing childhood social anxiety is a great starting point for any concerned parent. Just keep an eye on your children and try to engage them in activities and new things to do. If you notice they’re still struggling with worries and fears in a few months, there is plenty of help available through the NHS.

In the meantime, prepare, look forward to the lockdown lifting, and get ready for schools reopening – your child will be back making new friends, socialising and playing in the great outdoors in no time.