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Is Social and Physical Distancing Affecting Friendships and Social Skills?

Yes, for both Children and Adults

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Two pandemic years have magnified the importance of friendships. Friendship is no longer something we squeeze into frantic weekly routines. Children yearn for the day that they can freely play with their friends in the schoolyard, at their friend’s house and at the park. We all long to stand close or hug. We look forward to returning to that intimate sense of belonging many of us experienced pre-pandemic. I chuckle relating our newfound appreciation to the old saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

Although all ages haven’t enjoyed the restrictions, adults have had more control of their circumstances. Adults have free and easy access to technology plus are able to independently adjust their meeting locations and as such, have been able to implement creative measures to foster their friendships. For the most part, adults have been required to physical distance.

Unfortunately, since children are under the responsibility (control) of the adults and systems in their lives, they and their friendships have been the victims of social distancing. Social distancing has forced many children to sever or greatly alter their friendships. Prolonged periods of virtual school have isolated children from the intimacy of socializing and getting to know their peers.

Seeing classmates on a computer screen is limiting and stifling. In addition, many children are struggling to fully engage in online programming. Although in-class instruction is better, there are a number of protocols, such as face masks, that again break the natural rhythm of communication. Children who are working through their developmental understandings of emotion and social skills are disadvantaged in developing their friendships.

A friend was telling me how her university son was explaining that when he and his classmates returned to in-class learning, his fellow students seemed awkward in starting and sustaining conversations. In relating the story to his mom,  he began to wonder if they all lost some of their confidence and social skills. He found this extremely unsettling and hoped that the awkwardness would be short-lived.

As parents, teachers and grandparents, we acknowledge how much we miss our friends, hence it’s critical that we extend this empathy to our children and help them connect with their peers and friends. It may mean we need to take more time casually chatting with the kids in our lives about friendship. Their socializing skills might be a touch rusty as identified by the aforementioned university student.

We as adults might have to make that bigger effort at finding locations and circumstances that allow for our children to be physically distant but NOT socially distanced. Recently, our Comox recreation centre sponsored a literacy day event. Initially, it was suggested given Omicron that it might be best to make it a virtual event. After rethinking the idea, with the support of the Comox library and local businesses we hosted the event at Marina Park. It was cold and cloudy but everyone enjoyed hot chocolate, songs and a story. All in attendance were most appreciative of the attempts to get families together in a relatively normal gathering. We were physically distanced but not socially distanced. 

Below are some interesting posts and articles about supporting kids and their friendship building with particular attention to the extra underlying issues brought on by the pandemic. Let’s think of creative ways we can support our kids in maintaining and growing their friendships.

What better way to celebrate our friends than remembering their birthdays!

On a personal note, today one of my dear friends is celebrating her birthday. We have shared many summer ETFO courses together. I will always cherish the support Melanie gave when my mom passed away.

Melanie is a retired teacher. Since she retired after me and after I published Happy Cat and Merry Cat. In her last year of teaching, she featured my story in her classroom. I went in to do a reading. Following the visit, her class encouraged me to write another Happy Cat and Merry Cat story. Subsequently, I wrote Happy Cat and Merry Cat Answer Who’s Steering Your Ship inspired by Melanie’s wise, compassionate and firm classroom management style which fostered accountability in her students. I asked that they illustrate the story then had booklets made for each of the children as a retirement gift to Mel. A joint class project that would pay homage to their beloved teacher. 

Thank you Melanie for your friendship, support and inspiration. Happy Birthday and I hope that your life is constantly showered with fairy dust and rainbows (with pots of gold)! Here’s a birthday Reading of Happy Cat and Merry Cat Answer: Who’s Steering Your Ship?

A couple more links to the Happy Cat and Merry Cat Adventures.

Since then Happy Cat and Merry Cat Meet Merry-Lynn was written. I wrote this story inspired by a former principal, Marilyn Stewart, whose wisdom and kindness as a leader inspired me. In this story, the girls wish to turn into cats. In no time they find themselves in trouble. The moral of the story is, be careful of what you wish for. 

Take a look.