SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The past year has been tough on everyone, with layoffs, business closures, and lockdowns. One group that has been hit particularly hard is children, who have spent nearly a full year without much interaction with other kids.
"They're really missing exposure to same-age peers," says Dr. Deborah Pontillo, the founder of SD Kids First.
"Same age peers require more refined social skills," she says. "They aren't typically as kind. They need collaboration. They want to direct sometimes too. There are more directions. There are more requiring of flexibility and adaptability and compromise."
Those skills, often categorized as "Socialization Skills," have been missing from kids learning during a year of Zoom school and limited interaction or play.
Dr. Pontillo says 2/3 to 3/4 of the referrals she's received in the last year are from people with social concerns for their children.
Now, as schools begin to reopen and children get more exposure to other kids their age, Dr. Pontillo says parents will play a significant role in making sure their children develop social skills.
"That can be anything from conversations at the dinner table to playtime with parents or siblings," she says.
"Social skills can be taught," she adds. "All the things that are required at school can be reinforced or modeled during these everyday interactions."
Dr. Pontillo says the most crucial social lesson is empathy.
"If we teach kids empathy, they're able to form better relationships, have better self-esteem or self-confidence, and just be more successful overall," she says.
To do that, she says parents should focus on ways to help kids recognize emotions and understand what they mean. For young kids, that happens through stories or playtime. With older children, simple conversations can help.
The CDC also has a resource kit for parents on social skills during the pandemic.
While it may seem daunting, Dr. Pontillo reminds parents that kids are resilient, and there is plenty of time for them to learn.
"The brain is very plastic," she says. "And, we are wired to adapt."