How Parents Can Help Shy and Introverted Kids Through a Particularly Tough Back-to-School Season

As school starts up again in whatever form, how can we support kids’ social development — particularly for those who were already struggling? Here are some suggestions from experts.

Understand the ‘why’ behind the behavior. Garica Sanford is a child psychologist at the Momentous Institute, a nonprofit that provides social-emotional health services to families in Dallas. She said I need to consider whether my child is simply introverted — meaning he has a preference for, and derives energy from, being alone or with a small number of people — or whether he’s experiencing social anxiety, which is driven by fear or worry.

If we help kids articulate their concerns, we can help address them — and not try to find a solution for the wrong problem. “Parents might assume that kids are worried about covid,” Sanford said, “and really what they’re most worried about is not going outside for recess.”

Be conscious of our biases and concerns. Kris Laroche has been educating children and coaching parents for 30 years (and taught my kids at Green School Bali in 2018-2019). She called me out for complaining to her about being “stuck at home,” given that some people are enjoying the solitude. “The subtlest things in our language communicate very clearly whether something is good or bad,” she said, suggesting that we can create anxiety for kids around situations that they might otherwise experience as neutral or even positive.

Give developmentally-appropriate choices. Sanford said that giving kids control can lessen their anxiety. When her 4-year-old went back to day care, she let him pick out mismatched socks and shoes.

Create safe spaces. In preparing to reopen, the Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School in New York City created “cool-down spaces” in their classrooms, with protective shields “if you need to take off your mask and just breathe deeply and reset,” co-founder Eric Tucker said.

If they are learning online, some students might want to keep their camera off during video conferences or use the chat function instead of speaking; parents should make sure teachers understand their kids’ preferences and accommodate them to the extent possible.

Provide ongoing 1:1 connections. Every student at the Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School has a “success coach” with whom they meet one-on-one on a regular basis.

If kids aren’t getting one-on-one attention from an adult in school, parents might consider recruiting an older cousin, neighbor or friend to be an informal success coach.

Take refuge in the uncertainty. While the many unknowns of the fall can inspire worst-case scenario planning, they are, well, unknown. “You don’t know what the future will hold, and there can be a bit of refuge in that uncertainty,” Laroche said. Instead of projecting my son’s soccer camp experience onto what might happen when school reopens, I need to remember that “a lot of things could be different,” Laroche said.

Excerpted from “How parents can help shy and introverted kids through a particularly tough back-to-school season”  in the On Parenting section of  The Washington Post. Read the full article.

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Writer Christine Bader is the author of “The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil” and co-founder of The Life I Want, a storytelling project with Eva Dienel reimagining work.
Source: The Washington Post | How parents can help shy and introverted kids through a particularly tough back-to-school season, | © 2020 The Washington Post

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