Keeping kids social during the pandemic, expert says it’s needed to stay healthy

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Parents are struggling to figure out how to help their kids socialize while staying isolated at home.

“There is a movement in mental health circles to talk about re-framing the notion of social distancing to distant socializing or physical distancing,” said Dr. Hani Talebi, the director of pediatric psychology at Dell Children’s Medical Center.

He says socialization is a vital milestone for a young child’s development. Socializing with peers allows children to learn skills like sharing, solving problems, taking turns and boundary settings.

Dr. Talebi says for young children, that means playing with parents at home and getting creative to mimic what they would normally learn outside of the home.

“Do scenarios like ‘you’re on the play ground and someone is getting teased,'” Dr. Talebi said. “‘How do you feel about that?’ Or ‘you hit the home run winning the game, how do you feel? How does the other team feel?'”

Dr. Talebi says it’s not just what you’re doing, but how you’re doing it. He says “tweens” need more social interaction at their age. That can include social apps, online gaming, phone calls or playing virtual board games.

For parents with teenagers, focus on finding a balance is crucial.

“That becomes really dicey because they need a balance, being able to introvert and needing that time alone, but outward-facing activities as well,” he said. Dr. Talebi suggests teens can write songs, play music, garden, build projects or do science projects.

Then the socialization comes when they are able to share their achievements virtually with their peers, he said. When asked what troubles him the most during this time of distant socializing, Dr. Talebi says his focus is on parents because kids are looking to their parents for a barometer of, “how should I feel right now?”

His advice is to balance fear and anxiety with focusing on what is going right, and he asks parents to give themselves grace during this unique time.

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