I have taken full advantage of any sunny and/or semi-warm day to go with my son to a public park near where we live. Because of pandemic shutdowns, we haven’t been able to go to as many places as we would have normally. Recently though, I had a very concerning experience that made me seriously consider what we are modeling for our children during this pandemic when it comes to social interactions.
My sweet boy is 16 months old and is just starting to learn how to interact with other children. The other day, he went up to a boy at the park to say “hi”, and the kid (who was maybe a year or so older than him) said, “no no no no” while waving his hand in front of my sons face and ran away to his parents. I had overheard them before letting their son play on the playground, talking to him about staying away from other kids because it was not “safe”.
Before 2020, millennials were getting a bad rap for moving away from in-person interactions with their peers and increasingly only engaging in virtual interactions. People were worried about the kind of impact that would have on them and society down the line. But here we are, for a whole year now, with society telling our children to stay away from and be afraid of their peers and people in general.
After that incident at the park all I could think of was, are we raising a generation to be fearful of in-person interactions? Comfortable only when staying away from people? My son is only 16 months old and does not understand that the kid at the park ran away from him because of a pandemic. I’m not even sure the other kid understood why his parents say being around other kids isn’t “safe”. Regardless, my son just sees a peer rejecting him and being afraid of him. If I start to teach him to stay away from or fear other people, at his formative age, what will that do to him down the line?
Now, does that mean that I think we should be reckless, going everywhere, throwing caution to the wind, not wearing masks, and licking the floors while we do it? No. But a year later, we are still dealing with this pandemic, so I think it is important that every family sits down and really thinks through how we teach our kids about social interaction now. Have you done this? Thoughtfully, prayerfully, discussed what you want to be teaching your kid about social interaction during this pandemic?
What we decided as a family is that we will go to outdoor places (like the park or the zoo) to have fun, enjoy the world outside of our house, and safely interact with others. We also consciously picked a few kids with whom we will continue to have play dates with (inside or outside), so my child can grow up during this pandemic having healthy interactions with other children his age. Finally, we enrolled our son in a small gymnastics class so that he can learn by watching others, get out of the house, learn to follow instructions, and grow in his physical and social skills.
My son is chatty and social, so when he starts to go up to another kid, we encourage him to use his words to greet them, but we don’t stop them from interacting if they want to. We use hand sanitizer, eat healthy, and get exercise to keep our bodies healthy during this time. The plan we decided upon as a family is to also keep our minds healthy during this time. We have decided that it is worth it so that our son gets to interact with other kids to stay mentally, emotionally, and developmentally healthy.
We as parents have so many tough decisions to make, and certainly, no one trained us for parenting during a pandemic, but I believe many of us are not considering what we are modeling for our kids when it comes to social interaction.
Each parent has to decide what is right for their own children, based on their own individual situation. If you haven’t yet, sit down today, think it through, take appropriate precautions, and make a positive plan for your family to flourish physically, but also socially during this pandemic.