When 34-year-old Carol Moore and her family made the move from Grant Park to Alpharetta, the pregnant mom of a 13-year-old and 8-year-old had concerns about the transition. “Obviously, any time you move, there are changes to adjust to,” Moore notes. “But with COVID to consider, things have been even harder. My kids are meeting people for the first time wearing masks, and I don’t really know anyone in the area either, so health and safety has been on my mind a lot – especially since I am 36 weeks pregnant.”

With a new school year underway, kids are making new friends, getting invites for playdates and parties, and interacting with one another in person more than they have in over a year. We think this is the perfect time to focus on how COVID is changing social norms and how you can support your kids’ emotional development as we all continue to navigate the changing landscape.

Teach your kids ways to show respect and stay safe at the same time.

Many of our typical greetings – handshakes and hugs – are off limits because of COVID, but there are ways to show you’re happy to see someone while keeping your distance. “The key is to teach your children to respect others through example,” says Lisa Long, founder of the Georgia School of Etiquette. “Parents must teach their children to follow rules and be mindful of the feelings, wishes and traditions of others.” Long notes that eye contact goes a long way in showing respect and can be accomplished from a safe social distance. “Also, be sure your child knows it’s ok to step away,” says Long. If you need to cough or sneeze, it’s not rude to walk away and create some distance between yourself and someone else.

This is a great time to look at other cultures for ideas on how to greet others and show respect without getting too close; it could be a fun way to create new traditions in your family. Avital K. Cohen, Psy.D. a practitioner with Peachtree Pediatric Psychology suggests encouraging children to use their words instead of just body language. “Help your child express themselves with verbal greetings such as ‘I am so excited to see you!’ or ‘I don’t know if you can tell, but I am smiling under my mask.’”

Asking personal questions that will keep your family healthy is totally acceptable!

It might feel awkward to ask someone about their vaccination status, but “it ABSOLUTELY should be done before you plan a playdate,” says Long, who received her certification from The American School of Protocol.

“If you feel odd bringing it up, preface your question with a little speech,” says Cohen. “You can say something like: We are all doing what we feel is best regarding health and safety. I am trying to do what’s best for my child, so I am asking about your family’s vaccination status.”

Most people are happy to share this information because they are in the same boat as you. Think of this along the lines of other safety facts, such as firearms in the home or food allergies. And, if you are uncomfortable with the answers you get, it’s OK to decline an invitation.

Eliminate drama and stress by talking to your kids about social interactions BEFORE you leave the house.

“Kids need to see other kids for proper social and emotional growth,” says Cohen. Think about what sorts of playdates and social interactions you are comfortable with and then take time to explain what to do in certain scenarios to your child, along with age-appropriate explanations of why.

“Children crave direction,” says Long. “This is an opportunity to help your child be prepared. I always say: preparation is elevation.” Before you get to the park, tell your child when you want him to wear a mask and when it’s ok to take it off. Demonstrate with your family members how close they should get to someone else.

“We are lucky to live in a mild climate, so we can have lots of outdoor playdates,” notes Cohen, who also suggests not mixing groups of people. For instance, have times when you see school friends and times when you see family. “This will help keep grandma from getting sick.” She also suggests social podding or “quaranteaming” with a few families that address COVID precautions similarly to your family. This will increase the number of social connections you have while still focusing on health.

Make time to discuss feelings and be open to tackling hard things.

COVID is a generation-defining event, but instead of it being a singular moment in time you can recall, like 9/11, it’s chronic. “So, it’s not about how do you recover from this but how do you cope with it?” says Cohen. “Modeling is important also. As parents, we have our own feelings, so be sure to process your own emotions so that you can best support your child during this time.”

The good news is that kids are resilient. “If we phrase things constructively, we can give kids a sense of positive power,” she says. For instance, saying – We wear masks to help keep other people from getting sick – can help younger children want to keep their mask on for longer and not feel negatively towards the rule.

Being open to talking about feelings, which isn’t comfortable for every parent, is also important for your child’s long-term emotional health. Books can be great tools for helping with these conversations. Let your kids know that it’s ok to discuss things they miss and are sad about. “It’s your role as a parent to help recommend solutions and mention things they can be excited about right now,” says Cohen.

While the pandemic continues to surprise us, it’s important to remember that connecting with others – virtually, in masks or outside – is key to raising children who are well-adjusted emotionally and socially.

– Tali Benjamin

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