Since the beginning of times, human beings have been grouped into social entities, which has allowed them to defend themselves, reproduce, learn, and interact with the environment. Society and culture are fundamental aspects of human identity. Social interaction goes beyond mere genetic transmission, it is enriched in communication and cooperation between its members, which allows them to transmit knowledge and behaviors through learning. This is how culture is formed.

Culturally, social interaction occurs under:

  • A close physical contact,
  • Dates to go to the movies, eat or exercise;
  • Birthdays and Holidays are highly celebrated surrounded by a ton of people
  • Big parties to celebrate weddings, Christmas or holidays traditions passed from generation to generation.

All of them have in common the accumulation of people in closed or open spaces, with close proximity interactions.

However, everything has change since March 2020, when to prevent the spread of COVID-19 we had to build a wall around us, distancing ourselves from everyone. For us adults, it has not been easy to adapt to the new restrictions of distancing ourselves from all those around us. Even understanding the implications, it is difficult for us to get out of a lifetime habit of social interaction, in order to acquire new habits adapted to our current needs. If it has been extremely difficult for us ...

Can you imagine how difficult it has been for teenagers and children?

For adolescents, their main references come from social interaction with their peers in a vital moment where they seek to become independent from their parents and part of the group. It is typical at their age to constantly seek the approval of others, wanting to go out with them and building new experiences, or starting new relationships. For children who naturally seek physical contact through hugs, kisses or even during playtime (with games like tag); it is not easy to explain to them that they must keep their distance from their peers, cannot go to visiting grandparents or is forbidden to touch anything.

Social isolation is a high risk for developing mental health conditions, being loneliness and despair symptoms that could be highlighted by de social distancing. These feelings maintained for long periods of time can lead to the appearance of serious mental disorders in children and adolescents such as depression or anxiety. In a study conducted by Dr. Maria Loades, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, she indicates that the implications of loneliness caused by confinement during COVID-19 will not be measurable until the following ten to twenty years. However, she confirms that it is the prolongation of lockdown, and therefore loneliness, rather than the intensity of it, that usually has the greatest impact on the appearance of depression in children and adolescents.

Confinement has had positive and negative consequences, despite the fact that most of the studies focus on the possible negative repercussions that social isolation may have; qualitative studies indicate that family time has increased, thus strengthening the bond between family members. An emphasis has been placed on interactions with pets and self-care activities that contribute to coping with the psychological consequences of the pandemic. Although we consider that we cannot do anything to compensate for self-imposed social isolation, the truth is that nowadays, as opposed to a hundred years ago when the last pandemic was registered; society has created digital communication mechanisms that allow us to bring together all those who are far away.

To help our children deal with the overwhelming feeling of loneliness, it is essential to do four things:

  • Talk with your children, either through a conversation or with using the little one’s graphic tools; we must open a wide channel for communication to create an environment of emotional safety so that our children can express what they are feeling. This gives them the opportunity to externalize those deep feelings and look for possible solutions to deal with those emotions.
  • Being aware of our own emotions, this allows us to act instead of reacting as a consequence. As parents, we cannot ask our children to learn how to deal with their emotions if we do not know how to deal with them ourselves. The first step is to identify the emotion we are feeling; then we must understand why we are feeling it; to finally find a way to deal with them. This practice will allow us to re-direct our emotions without affecting those we love the most.
  • Maintaining a routine, schedules and routines provide structure and stability to the daily life; allowing us to establish specific times to work, eat or rest. Maintaining habits that accompany our routine such as dressing, bathing, brushing our teeth, eating on time or sleeping, help our body to maintain their biological rhythm and therefore promote our emotional balance.
  • Maintaining good sleep habits, our body needs a recovery period after daily energy expenditure. During this period of time, we give our brain a break, so that it can regenerate itself. By emptying our minds, by resting, we can use it again the next day at their full potential. That is why it is important to take care of our sleep habits and the rituals that accompany it. The alteration of those habits can lead to attention problems, mood swings, decreasing memory, among others.

Now, once we know the four fundamental aspects that we must keep in order to maintain good mental health in balance, we cannot forget that this does not replace social contact in the least. For this reason, we must be creative when coming up with strategies that will help us battling this isolation with our children and adolescents.

Here are some suggestions that you can do with your children:

  • Schedule physical activity with your children indoors our outdoors. They can practice Yoga that contributes to relaxation, or a Zumba class to exercise, or take a walk into the forest to breathe fresh air and change their environment.
  • Play with your children, discover their interests preferably away from the screens or consoles, but that are fitting for their age. Playtime, especially in young children, develops their communication and social interaction skills. In adolescents they allow them to build memories with their parents around playful and stimulating moments. Likewise, through playtime creativity and problem solving are highly stimulated, which is a fundamental part of human development.
  • Organize playdates with their classmates where children can interact with their peers through the screen. This will allow them to have a fun time in the company of those who are further away from them at this time.
  • Plan a meal with grandparents or extended family, thanks to technology we can connect through our screens to have lunch or dinner with the family we cannot see physically. Having a previous agreement with them to cook the same meal and share a moment with them around the dinner table, even though it is through a screen.
  • Limit the use of screens , especially if they are taking online classes. The use of screens is highly addictive and leads to the appearance of mental health problems. It is important not to exceed that daily limit, especially in teenagers it should not exceed a maximum of two hours daily (one hour when they are in online classes).
  • Maintain a positive attitude, despite the difficulties we should teach our children to build resilience. It is imperative to limit the access that our children have to the news which generates uncertainty and anxiety in ourselves and furthermore in them. Also, it is helpful to encourage the occurrence of moments that promote good humor and joy at home; Starting a tickling war, creating a comedy time, where everyone has to tell a joke, or sing along on an improvised karaoke. Humor is essential to maintain a positive attitude, and to transmit it to our children.
  • Express how much you care to your loved ones por ellos; sometimes we take for granted that our loved ones know how important they are to us. However, at times like this, it is worth reminding them and even thanking them for the role they play in our lives.
  • Encourage your teenagers to learn a new skill in the company of their friends, they can work on a common project and share their impressions about learning this new skill or hobby. They can learn to draw with watercolor, to make cartoons, to knit; there are multiple options available where they can share the learning sources and strengthen the skill they want to learn, interacting with their peers.
  • Act as a role model for your children; Our kids tend copy everything we do, especially the little ones. For that reason, it is essential for us to be an example for our children. Either in the quantity of time we use our screen, or following our daily routines or how we cope with our emotions; if we set a good example, this contributes directly to the well-being of our children.

Now that we have given you some strategies to deal with social isolation, choose one and get ready to do it, you will see that you will feel better afterwards. Remember to live one moment at time, making the most of it.

References:

Impact of children’s loneliness today could manifest in depression for years to come.
Recovered from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200531200333.htm

How to maintain our relationships while in isolation.
Recovered from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/es/blog/como-mantener-nuestras-relaciones-mientras-estamos-en-aislamiento

Coronavirus: how to help children through isolation and lockdown.
Recovered at: https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-how-to-help-children-through-isolation-and-lockdown-133990

Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Carmen Irene de Lisa Marques
Psychologist
Children, adolescents and adults
Languages: Spanish, English and Portuguese
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