Staying Social During Social Distancing

Tamiko Teshima, M.A, CCC-SLP Speech-Language Pathologist, Duncan Lake Speech Therapy, LLC

If the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that socializing is very difficult during a time of social distancing. We know, though, that children need exposure to other humans in order to maintain their social communication skills. What are some ways that you can squeeze some person-to-person interaction into your day during this time? See if any of these would work for you!

Zoom with a Purpose

Many times, Zoom interactions aren’t as successful as we hoped they’d be, both for us as adults and for our kids. Don’t give up yet! Instead, try setting a purpose or a theme for the Zoom calls. For example, if your child is going to chat with one of their friends from school, try having them both come with pictures of what they ate that day or their favorite outdoor activity. If your child is talking to their grandparents, try having a “show-and-tell” and each bring a themed item (favorite hat, favorite book, etc.). Shared experiences provide an easier context in which to communicate. Plus, (virtual) face-to-face interactions not only help to facilitate basic greeting and question/answer skills, but also conversational strategies as a whole.

Walking – a Social Opportunity

While taking a family walk remains somewhat solitary, there are a number of ways to address social communication during this time. I’ve been thoroughly impressed by art in peoples’ windows and on their sidewalks in the neighborhoods around me. For social communication practice, have your child create their own art to put in the window with greetings and words encouragement. If you have friendly and cooperative neighbors, perhaps pick a time when you know you’ll be out and about and ask them to sit on their porches as you walk by. This will give your child some partners with whom they can practice greetings and basic conversational skills (from a distance).

Letter Writing

Who doesn’t love getting mail, especially from a loved one? If your child is a writer, work with them to write notes to those you are unable to see right now. If your child is not a writer or is a pre-writer, you can talk through what you could write in a letter or a card. Letter writing has its own set of social rules and formats, so practicing in this way will help keep those social skills sharp.

Cooking with Friends

I’m a big fan of using cooking as a language and learning strategy for a lot of reasons. First, we have to do it everyday, which makes it functional. Second, it is extremely engaging most of the time. If you have a child who likes to cook, turn it into a social event. Instead of the cooking being just you and your child, have siblings or other adults in the house join in as well to turn it into a party. Cooking is also a great activity to use for a “Zoom with purpose.” Have grandma or an uncle or a friend join in over whatever platform you use and cook the same dish together. By utilizing this activity in a social way, you can practice turn-taking, questions and answers, and polite forms (please, thank you, etc.).

Identifying Emotions

Part of being a social communicator is recognizing emotions in others. While we are not able to see other people right now, there are many opportunities to identify emotions. As you watch a television show together, talk about the different facial expressions of the characters and what they might be feeling. You can also pause while reading a book together and talk about the characters’ emotions. The best part about this – you don’t need a separate activity to address it

Overall, there are a number of different ways to include social communication into your day despite social distancing. It might take a bit of preparation, but with some time (and perhaps patience and flexibility), these activities can truly enrich your child’s social skills.