My own son suffers from Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) which is a co morbid condition of his Attention Deficit Hyper Active Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), so you can imagine routine is important for our family.
School was the at the core of our (old) normal morning routine, it set the time for when we would get up, how many minutes we had before the bus to fit in breakfast, washing and getting changed. Something so simple, but a very important part of our day. I knew that if something went wrong during the morning routine it was likely my son would have a tricky start to the day or a bad day all together, depending on what went wrong, something I would most likely hear about by call or email from his teacher (because everything was always fine to my son, how was school? fine! how did your day go? fine! even when there was nothing fine about it at all). Now that we are in the 'new normal' virtual school is a thing, but it's clear this isn't for everybody and it's definitely not for him! it brings a whole host of new anxieties to the table. It's different, it's new and it's scary, it's social anxiety at a new level. We tried it, we thought it would keep our old routine in play - but it didn't
Now that we are in lock down and social distancing i'm worried his social anxiety will get worse. He struggles to make friends at the best, of times, he considers himself to have none, and never invites any one over to play. He puts his friends into categories: School friends for school, Friends at granny house, friends at dad's house and they don't mix or exist when he is out of that environment, so I guess you can say he was socially distant even before social distancing was a thing! but that is exactly my cause for concern! he's wont reach out to his school mates (he says he doesn't have friends) and no one has reached out to him. So, how can we help our children who are already isolated, or socially distant? we want to help but this is new territory and we don't always know how!
So I thought it would be good to share our experiences and the things we have implemented that have helped us to help him, hopefully it will help you too
This has been particularly difficult for us as a family, we are so far from routine its hard to find our way back to anything that resembles it - but were working on it.
As parents were now juggling our careers and work from home, the kids school work, home hygiene and trying to insure the mental and physical well being of all the family members, going for walks or exercising along with Joe Wicks, it's a lot to contend with and can be overwhelming, and that's OK!
I found it helps to let the kids be part of building their new routine, yes, they will probably build the day around screen time or playing video games but maybe you can harness that and utilize it into a type of reward - school work for screen time. Behavior management is important to reinforce positive behaviors and is definitely a must for my son but I think it's a helpful tool to have for any child.
Put together a visual chart, an itinerary of the day or of at least some of the tasks and activities you aim to get through, you might not cover everything that day, so be sure to let the kids know it may change, try your best to stick with it though as this can relieve a lot of anxiety by allowing the child to see what is coming up next and allow them to prepare, they have already been part of putting it together, so they will find it easier to transition. Remember to include breaks and free time too and don't forget rewards! rewards for completing tasks and reaching goals = positive reinforcement.
For my son, hyperactivity can be an issue, so physical movement and activities are important to help him regulate his energy. Physical activity can be a simple game of football in the garden, some movement techniques from YouTube or a walk around the block - what ever works for your family.
Staying active isn't always easy, and it's hard to find the motivation when were mostly stuck inside all day everyday, I know my son get's into slumps where he just wont move. There have definitely been day's where he has got up, walked from his bed to the couch, plumped down and not moved again until bed time that night - I know for my son he already hates being outside, not even just in the social context, he doesn't usually play in the garden or come to the horses any more and even tho he is hyperactive, when hes in front of the screen nothing else matters and everything else is just an inconvenience. I know I struggle to motivate myself to motivate him some days - By the way, that's OK too!
But for the most part it's important to stay active, to try incorporate some type of activity or physical movement into your day and your child's. Exercise and activity are well known to promote health in the body and the mind which helps improve mindset and positivity.
Stay Connected & Talk it Through
It sounds simple, but if your child is avoiding connecting with friends or family or engaging in school, ask them why. Maybe they feel overwhelmed by the amount of school calls or feel uncomfortable with the 'new normal'. I know for my son it's a mixture of everything but he worries most with not knowing what to say and worries about what others think (even though they are participating too, everything just now is dumb!. Try not to argue, I know it's frustrating, show empathy instead and talk it through. What they highlight are the issues should be the 'why' questions you ask to help them further explore their feeling's and worries. Why do you think? that or why do you feel that way? try to allow your child to explore their own feelings their their own reason's why they feel that way, avoid transference, putting words in their mouth, such as phrasing things like is it because of...?. Understanding your child’s frustration and fear of the situations might reveal a solutions.
I know some times kids don't like to share their thoughts and feeling's and if it's not something you do often it can see 'dumb' to some kids, i'm lucky that chatting 1-on-1 to my son is the one thing that does help him and I would highly recommend it, even if it is 'dumb' at the start.
“In the beginning, what we’re doing is helping kids feel comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.” - Janine Domingues, PhD
The most important thing is to respect your child's boundaries, what they feel comfortable doing and knowing how far you can encourage them to push past heir own barriers, let them know you're on their side.
Family Games for Connection
If all else fails, and your child just wont be socially active within the virtual learning community - don't panic, try to stay positive and get creative!
Maybe your child (like mine) will feel more comfortable with family virtual call's. You can start by simply talking to grandparents and aunties and uncles via Skype or Zoom and invite them to come and say hi. Put together a family quiz game and make it fun to stay connected with others outside your own household.
That's OK too - That's Life!
And remember, as parent's, it's OK to have off day's, day's where you don't get it all done, day's when you prioritise yourself and your needs and give in on demands for screen time and video games - that's life! and that's completely acceptable. If you are worried the effects of lock down or social distancing are making your child's social anxiety worse, reach out, to us, to Facebook groups or to the many organisations set up to help. We would be more than happy to talk you through things, create space for you or guide you to other organisations who can give you advice