There’s no way to prepare for having a child during a pandemic, but that was our family’s reality when our son was born in 2020. My 9-5 office job turned into a fully remote position and our childcare options were severely limited. Personally, I was already hesitant about sending my newborn to daycare before the world shut down, so that option flew straight out the window very quickly afterward. We’ve had the privilege of in-house childcare while I worked from home these last few years; however, that meant that our child has lacked the experience of being around other children for most of his life. So we had to answer the question: how do you help your kid’s social skills when you’re home 90 percent of the time?
This is a concern that has been top of mind for me since we started at-home childcare. We’ve considered enrolling him a few times in the past, especially when we discovered I was pregnant with baby number two shortly after his first birthday. Ultimately, we felt that our current arrangement suited our family’s needs better. Now that he is approaching three years old, we have finally decided to start preschool this summer.
However, I am not worried about him socializing with children because we’ve taken necessary steps to help him feel confident around other people these last three years. I can tell by the way he knows how to communicate his needs and emotions and understands his own (and other people’s) boundaries. If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation as us and prefer at-home childcare but are concerned about socialization, here is what we have done to help our child’s social skills—from one parent to another.
Every child is different, and we try to cater how we interact with him according to his personality. Some children are reserved around strangers whereas others thrive on attention. We had to accept the fact that he may be more uncomfortable around strangers considering the first year of his life was spent mostly at home. So once outings became safer, we started off slowly and cautiously.
We never pushed him to say hello to people he didn’t know or shamed him for displaying shyness. Instead we modeled behavior like greeting the employees at stores and restaurants we visited. Children are naturally observant and want to mimic what adults do, so he began copying our behavior pretty quickly. Now at two and a half, he is quick to smile back at people who greet him and engage in conversation once he feels safe to do so.
We don’t stop talking, like ever.
In my opinion, communication in any form is a big component in fostering a child’s social skills. Whether that’s through speech, sign language, or other non-verbal forms of communicating. If our family was going to be his only social interaction, then we were going to dive in fully. We are also fortunate to have a large family that visits our home often, and it’s in our family’s culture to be loud, chatty, and expressive.
Our entire family made the effort to talk to him since he was a newborn. We narrated playtime, asked him questions (even before he could answer), described our actions during an activity, and even sang him songs. As a choir kid in my former life, I found it much easier to sing my actions to him rather than narrate, and I incorporated music into our every day life.
It can certainly feel silly to talk or sing to a tiny human that is only capable of staring back at you, but kids benefit from hearing our voices no matter how young they are. And at some point, they will start to make noises right back at you! There is rarely a quiet moment in our home, and I feel that has helped him be less fearful of noisy and hectic public places.
We play pretend, a lot.
Playing pretend is a great way to encourage social skills that he now uses when we are in public. Since he was 18 months old, we’ve pretended to buy groceries, shop at stores, and cook and serve food to each other. There are pretend zones in different sections of his playroom like a mechanic shop, kitchen set, bistro shop, and a foldable kids couch where we play doctor and hair salon. It’s helped his vocabulary along with social skills. We’ve seen them in action the last few times we visited restaurants and watched him order his own meal (proud mom moment).
Like I mentioned, our house is filled with family members regularly. But he doesn’t have many cousins his age to play with, so we’ve had to get creative. We make frequent trips to local parks, libraries, and play museums so he has the opportunity to interact with other children. It was a bit nerve wracking for both him and us those first few times he played with kids.
I remember watching him like a hawk to make sure he was being nice to everyone, and to my surprise, he was! I felt like a helicopter mom in the beginning trying to show him how to play but I found that he was much more comfortable and confident when we gave him the space to figure it out himself.
I found that he was much more comfortable and confident when we gave him space the space to figure it out himself.
We don’t force it.
There are certainly days where he straight up does not want to talk to strangers or even family members he’s known his entire life. We don’t force him to hug anyone, even grandparents or aunts and uncles. If he says no, we respect that and have told our family members to do the same. We offer him an alternative of a fist bump or a wave if he would like instead. Children are not required to sacrifice their comfort for the sake of adults.
It’s our job as grown ups to ensure our kids feel safe and their boundaries listened to at all times, and I believe that sense of trust is important when teaching social skills as well. The concept of consent is also something we’ve taught him to do since before he could walk. Whether that’s by showing him how to give his pets and sibling space or not tickling someone when they’ve said to stop. These are all valuable lessons that parents can begin teaching from the very beginning and will ultimately help build their kids’ social skills.