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Addressing stunted social development in kids post-COVID on-line learning


Dr. Gayani DeSilva MD


education and schools

Gayani DeSilva is a Child Adolescent Psychiatrist with 20 years experience. She is the author of A Psychiatrists Guide: Helping Parents Reach Their Depressed Tween, and A Psychiatrists Guide: Stop Teen Addiction Before It Starts.

Children have missed over a year of in school learning and this is having an impact on their social development. 

In our zeal to "get back to normal", we have embraced and encouraged our children to return to school and participate in the complete in-person learning experience, including the social interactions we expect our children to have during school.  Unfortunately, we have not prepared our children or ourselves for the lack of development of social skills our children would have gotten in nearly 2 years if they had been in-person at school.  Missing nearly 2 years of in-person social interactions has chenged the develpoment of our children's social skills.  This delay in development has led to more children showing signs of anxiety and depression.


1. Parents and teachers need to recognize that though their students are entering their classroom at a certain grade, their social development is lagging by nearly 2 years.  Thus a second grader is entering the classroom for the first time, and may behave like a kindergartener.  

2. Recognizing this delay in social skills is not enough.  Children need adults to help them develo social skills.  They cannot be merely taught these skills.  They must experience them, practice them, and then feel some mastery over these new skills.  This requires that parents and teachers intervene and assist children as they learn to resolve peer conflicts.  For instance, ninth graders will be beahving more like seventh graders!  

3. Being awkward with social skills creates significant anxiety in children and teens.  Add on top of that the disappointment and frustration of parents and teachers when kids do not act their age, children and teens are powerless to feel good about themselves.  They may develop depression or anxiety disorders in the effort to cope.

4. If Children become depressed and anxious, they may behave in unexpected ways.  They may become oppositional, defiant, rude, withdrawn, isolative, seem lathargic or lazy, dis-interested in activities, sleep too much or too little, not concentrate, lose their appetite or eat too much, and become hopeless and suicidal.

5. How do we help them? We modify our expectations and be ready to support and assist.  We listen to their woes.  We help them develop skills.  We model for them how to be patient, kind and thoughtful.  We allow them to make mistakes and try again. We show them patience and grace. We do not push them to behave in ways that are "their age", but we are patient with them as they grow and develop their skills.  It won't take lomg, but they need time and room to grow. 

6. In safe ways, allow for kids to share time together just playing and being kids. 

7. Be open to your children's interests, even if it seems like they "should" have grown out of those topics or activities.  Adjust your expectations to meet your kids at their level of need.

8. We have all endured a global traumatic event, and will need to heal from this.  We cannot hold tightly to the usual expectations.  We must be more patient and tolerant.

9. Aso, I advocate for schools to have classes for kids of all ages on social skill development and relationships (friendships, romantic relationships, family, etc... at a developmentally appropriate level).  Focussing on our metal health is a necessity and social skills development is an important part of mental health.

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