Two years later and school is back in full session, masks are no longer mandated in most places and things are opening back up a bit more every day. For many children, and in fact, for many adults, anxiety which developed or increased during COVID, has remained, and becomes more evident as we all try to return to what was, before the pandemic.
How do we “return” to the way things were and how do we help our children who have varying disabilities and abilities “return” without causing more anxiety and uncertainty?
While every child is unique and processes things differently, listed below are some suggestions which can be adjusted based on your child’s strengths, abilities, and challenges:
CREATE A SOCIAL STORY of activities that you and your child have not done for quite some time (e.g. going into a mall, eating at a restaurant, going to the movies, etc.).
Carol Gray who developed social stories and comic strip conversations, stated the following when defining social stories: “Social Stories describe a situation, skill or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives and common responses in a patient and reassuring manner that is easily understood by its audience”. The story describes in detail the activity you will be doing or the place that you will be going to—it helps to prepare the child so he can learn what to expect in a specific situation.
CREATE A ROUTINE/SCHEDULE including introducing an activity that you haven’t done for quite some time. Writing it down using words and/or pictures helps the child to understand when this activity will occur within a day or within a specific time period.
PLAN ON A BREIF INTRODUCTION to the activity and then INCREASE FREQUENCY AND LENGTH OF TIME for that activity. Here is an example: You wish to go to the park with your child. Plan on only going for a short period at first. Let the child see how she feels at the park and let her observe the area for a short time even if she doesn’t want to go on the swing or the slide. Following that visit, continue to return to the park, increasing the time at the park and increasing the days that you visit the park (when possible).
BALANCE THE SCHEDULE in the beginning with time in new activity along with an activity that the child has been doing (and had been doing during COVID)—such as playing a game on the computer or engaging in a preferred activity at home.
INCLUDE THE CHILD in choosing from several activities that she/he hasn’t done since the pandemic (e.g. visiting the park, going to the mall and going food shopping). At the supermarket, as a reinforcer, you might want to tell the child he/she can pick out one item that he/she wants to have as a treat or for dinner that night, etc. Letting the child be a part of developing the schedule of what to do—in this way, he gains a sense of control (in an anxiety producing situation).
Each child may need different supports and accommodations. However, for most children, going slowly and introducing things little by little can feel less threatening and more tolerable. While parents are sensitive to their child’s needs, parents should also be aware of their own feelings as they too experienced a pandemic. These past 2 years proved to be challenging for everyone –in different ways but it was a time of uncertainty and a time of anxiety as none of us knew how it would all play out. It is continuing to play out, less intensively now but it is still present. We must be kind and patient to ourselves as well as to our children. Going slowly, being patient and taking one step at time—we hope this sounds like a plan.