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Back to School: How parents can help kids who've lost social development during pandemic

Posted at 7:24 AM, Aug 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-27 10:24:26-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- As her 5-year-old daughter Gigi counts out numbers, Nicole Alvarado recalls how this last year and a half has not been as easy as 1, 2, 3.

“It was kind of heartbreaking to have her here this year because I felt like I wasn't able to give her those experiences with friends,” said Nicole.

When Gigi started interacting with friends again in-person after the state reopened this summer, Nicole said that's when she noticed a change.

“I could definitely see that there might have been miscommunication with things where she didn't know how to express herself very well, like sharing or compromising, things she would have learned this whole last year and a half in preschool,” said Nicole.

Experts have reported seeing more and more kids of all ages affected by the loss of normal interaction.

Shelby Espiritu, a marriage and family therapist with Sharp Mesa Vista, said, “They haven't learned how to problem solve right in front of other kids especially the younger ones; what to do when somebody takes my toy, how to deal with that myself.”

Espiritu added, “The older kids, they're in this space of starting to individuate and separate from their families a little bit, having their own opinions then spending time with their friends and they didn't get to do that either.”

Nicole is already doing much of what Espiritu said parents can do to help their kids thrive, and that is:

  • Watch for behavior not normal to your child, from personality changes to unusual physical symptoms
  • Set aside time on a regular basis to allow children to share their feelings and experiences
  • Without judgment give what they're feeling a name so they better understand it

Espiritu said it's not just parents who can help.

“Not all kids have support at home, so school is a place that we as a community can make sure kids are being supported and cared for and that their emotional development is really a priority,” she said.

According to Espiritu, not every pandemic outcome has been negative.

“I always think about had we not gone through this, there's lessons these kids wouldn't get to learn,” she added.

Nicole said Gigi can't wait to spend her days in class with kids her own age.

“Putting her out into the world is a little bit scary, but I would hope that she continues to be safe and just to enjoy herself,” said Nicole.

Espiritu encouraged parents not to beat themselves up if their kids are experiencing issues. She said that can take us emotionally away from our children.

If your children say, "I'm fine, I'm fine," Espiritu said to trust them unless you see some of the warning signs described.