Essential Guide to Transitioning to Social Interactions – Post COVID

Social isolation was not easy at first. We weren’t prepared for it. Now, one year later, we’ve grown accustomed to a lack of physical human interaction.

I have heard from people all over the world, distressed that they are unable to meet people every day, to interact and to have mundane conversations. But NOW I am hearing even stranger – and scarier – messages. Many have come to prefer a life with limited interactions. How do we venture back to in-person social interactions?

How to Transition Back to Face-to-Face Social Interactions

Introverts and extroverts alike are now expressing trepidation at transitioning back to ‘normal’ social interactions. I believe that returning to socializing, especially indoors, will lead to social anxiety for many people. Those of us living in colder climates, with a more limited outdoor social exposure, may find it even harder.

Transitioning Back to Social Interactions is Not Going to be Easy

In our herculean effort to save ourselves and loved ones from death, we have given up our freedoms and activities and put our lives on hold. This has not come without cost. In an effort just to survive, we have lost subtle nuances including reading the room to interpret energy, facial expressions, body language and tone.

Social interactions are going to be weird at first as we try to unlearn a skill we have come to master – being socially distanced aficionados. No longer can we hide behind screens, or turn off a screen when we lost interest. How do we strike up a conversation or fein interest without looking awkward – both mentally and physically?

It’s Time to Practice Social Interaction Skills

Social InteractionsAs we transition back to ‘normal’ life, it is time to remember and refresh the social skills we have been learning since childhood. It seems funny that we need to learn the skill of communicating again. Didn’t we learn this in kindergarten?

It may feel like a hassle, or a task, but it is now time to transition back to physical interactions. It may feel natural at times, and so awkward at others, but at least all of us are in the same boat.

Let’s Sharpen our Rusty Social Skills

It’s time to address our fears and build our social resiliency again

1.  Take a gradual approach – ease back into socializing slowly and keep your expectations low. Millions of Americans are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 each day. The writing is on the wall, we will be returning to “normalcy” soon. But for many, returning to previous activities will feel daunting. If 5 activities in a month feels too much, do only 2. Make sure it is enjoyable.

2. Build in a reward system – Just as you might opt for a new haircut or get a manicure after losing 5 pounds, give yourself a reward for each time you call or walk with a friend.

3. Treat yourself and others with kindness and respect – All of us have a different threshold of comfort. Practice modifying your tone and energy to come across as calm, quiet, polite, lighthearted, relaxed, chatty, non-confrontational, cautious, respectful, thoughtful, detached, curious, dulcet, soothing, earnest, light, breezy, gentle.

Socializing 101

Each of us will need to prepare our return to society based on what feels comfortable. What is ‘right’ for your friend may not hold true for you. That is fine and, well, human. What we all share, however, is the need for kindness, willingness and determination to pull out of this pandemic better than before.

Do This At Home

Connection is a Verb

Read more about social skills

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About Caroline Maguire

Caroline Maguire, M. Ed., earned her undergraduate degree at Trinity College and her Masters of Education and Early Childhood Development at Lesley University with a specialization in social emotional learning (SEL).

Caroline is the author of the award winning book, Why Will No One Play With Me?, a playbook of foolproof scripts on how to build social skills.

She created a comprehensive Social Emotional Learning (SEL) training methodology for adults, parents, clinicians and academic professionals. She is the founder and director of The Fundamentals of ADHD Coaching for Families training curriculum at  ADD Coach Academy (ADDCA) – the only Coach Training program accredited by the International Coach Federation (ICF).

Ms. Maguire is a sought-after lecturer and workshop facilitator on various topics related to social, emotional and behavioral learning. She is a permanent columnist on social skills in CHADD’s Attention Magazine, a favored contributor to U.S. News & World Report, Mind Body Green, Salon, Huffington Post, Today Parenting, ADDitude and WebMD.

Download her free video “How to Tell a Tighter Story,” for advice on how to curb rambling.

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5 Reasons Why We’re All Hyper-Sensitive Now (And How You Can Take Your Sanity Back)

Why We are Sensitive During COVID-19

sensitivityFor some – maybe for you – this pandemic has been dreadful. The isolation and loneliness. A job loss. Death or illness. New worries about finances, health or the future. The pandemic has left an indelible toll on the country.

Experts also warn of a “second pandemic” – an increase in mental and behavioral illness that follows the first pandemic in its wake. A report by the United Nations and World Health Organization indicates that 45 percent of Americans reported experiencing distress due to the COVID-19 crisis.

What is Sensitivity?

Being sensitive about something doesn’t mean it has to be warranted. It means that YOU are feeling something deeply. It can be real or perceived. Feeling rejection, worry or irritation may be setting off your emotional alarms, which may then push you fight flight or freeze mode. Dr Stuart Shanker compares this phenomenon to a car alarm. Once the alarm has been activated, just tapping the car can cause the alarm to be triggered again.

How to be sensitive to your own mental health during the COVID-19 crisis.

  1. Do a body scan – Take a read on how you are feeling in your body and mind by doing an emotional temperature scan. Ask yourself, “Am I being too sensitive?” “Are my feelings warranted?” If the answer is yes, engage in mindfulness practices to de-escalate the effects of hyper-sensitivity.
  2. Figure out your tolerances – There are things in all of our daily lives that drain our energy and irritate us. What feels heavy to you? What irritates you? This may be the pile of clothes on a chair in your bedroom or the broken latch on the gate that keeps swinging open.
  3. Create hope and joy—Take back your happiness – Joy is hard to come by lately. Wouldn’t it be great to order a big box of it on Prime? With so much out of our control, don’t get discouraged. Recall how you have ushered in joy in the past and try to mimic the activities. Music, dance, creating things, talking to friends are just a few examples of ways to bring back happiness.
  4. Pick daily activities to cope with frustrations and emotions– Each day that is unproductive or in solitary can potentially be a day that brings disappointment. What activities can you do each day of the month? Perhaps more sports, or add new interests. A trip to the craft store can foster some much-deserved creativity. The point here is to build on strengths, develop new interests, and strengthen relationships.
  5. Respond Rather than React –An overly reactive response might be to yell at someone. To pause and craft a response is a more thoughtful, centered response. Rarely do good things happen when instigated from a reaction.Individually, we are all coping with this global pandemic.

    We are all dealing with this pandemic in our own ways, but we all need to embrace self care. The best self-care steps start with the basics: your hygiene, your health, your sleeping and your nutrition.

    DO This At Home!

    For scripts, tools, advice and actionable exercises on helping children develop social skills, check out Why Will No One Play with Me?

    Deeper Dive:

    5 Ways to Use Social Emotional Learning to Bring Back Joy

Self-Awareness in Social Emotional Learning

 

Build Social Emotional Skills Over the Holiday

The holidays are a very social time. This can be a good thing; and a not so good thing. Plan now to teach your child these social emotional skills exercises during the holidays.

Common Holiday Social Skills Dilemmas

Social Emotional Learning
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Are you trying to avoid last year’s social challenges? Do you wish your teenager would chat easily with your uncle and not ignore everyone to text friends? Did your daughter’s clothing and comments raise eyebrows? Do you fear your son’s look of irritation or his sharp tone will make you cringe again? Were you told your kids played too rough with the cousins?

Plan for Now to Build Social Emotional Skills

The holidays are a perfect time to practice your child social emotional skills. Use this time to work on one specific mission. Probably what causes your child the most angst is also an area of concern for you. Talk openly about this with your child. Jointly decide on one social emotional skill that will build communication and relationship skills to last a lifetime.

social emotional learningWhere ever you go (or don’t go as the case may be) – you will interact with people. Use every opportunity at the mall, holiday parties virtually with friends and family, to standing in line at the grocery store – use the daily life of a parent managing the holiday grind to your advantage.

Are you ready to coach?

This year can be different. Not only are we in unprecedented times, but our social gatherings are more likely to be online than in person. That is OK. It is what it is this year – so let’s make the best of it.

This whole journey starts with you coaching your child. Some kids make friends easily and know how to navigate any social event. Other kids do not. As a parent you are the perfect person to work with your child. You know his struggles. You are her original teacher and are with her day in and day out.

5 Social Skills Exercises to Build Self-Awareness

  1. Help Your Child Become a social spy – Self-awareness is one of the core concepts in CASEL’s Social Emotional Learning framework. In this exercise, you will rehearse in advance what specific social information searching for. It is important for her to understand that she is to listen unobtrusively, to watch other people in a subtle, covert way without looking like she is listening. Have her report back on non-physical traits such as energy, behavior and mood. For physical traits, how about identifying how her peers are wearing their clothing and hair. What do they talk about at lunch? This information can then be used to assess her own traits in order to build self-awareness skills. Read more about Self-Awareness.
  2. Reading the Mood – This can work particularly well with online chats. In advance, identify which family members to observe in order to work on social emotional skills. How does their body language and intonation reflect what they are saying? What do they do to demonstrate their mood? Are they more positive than others? How do thy make you feel. Compare notes later and discuss how each of you would fare in this observation?
  3. Become a better Noticer – In advance of the call, have your child take mental note of grandma’s earrings, hair and clothing. Is there something new or something you like? What did you say that made her particularly happy? Discuss how he can build his communication skills by using this data when engaging in conversation.
  4. Teach your child to engage in a “polite pretend”- The ability to fake interest or happiness and to be polite even when your child is hungry, tired or bored is what I call a polite pretend. Begin by asking him some open-ended questions, what do you think your friend felt about your behavior? How do other people feel about how you treated them? What behavior does the situation call for? This will help your child think about his actions and why performing a polite pretend may be necessary rather than hurting other people’s feelings.
  5. Build a Conversationtaking a conversation from “hi” to a full-fledged conversation is hard for some children and teens but it is a life skill. Model how you use the data you both identified to engage someone. You can comment on her jewelry or clothing to start. Encourage your child to agree with you by nodding if talking is too difficult. The goal is to begin talking to people she doesn’t know well by noting how she talks to people she does know well

 Self-Awareness is at the Root of Belonging

Make a game of this exercise. It can be your own “little secret” and will not only help your child develop critical social skills, but also build your connection.

Deeper Dive:

Self-Management Skills Required this Holiday

5 Ways to Use Social Emotional Learning to Bring Back Joy

Do you worry about your child?

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You are not alone. The pandemic has hit all of us hard in so many ways: financially, medically, academically, and socially. Social emotional concerns are at an all-time high. Parents share their struggles and concerns with me. My heart breaks for these kids – and this includes my own two children.

“Where is the fun?!” “How can this still be going on?” “Why can’t someone fix it?”

Add to the pandemic the chaos of an armed insurrection that occurred at the US Capitol. We, parents, are confused and feel helpless. Wouldn’t you gladly “fix” this if at all humanly possible?

I am here to tell you that there are things you can do as a parent to create joy and help your child or teen stay socially and emotionally centered.

5 Ways to Use Social Emotional Learning to Bring Back Joy and Civility 

  1. Walk in Their Shoes – Your child or teen needs you more than ever – even if she doesn’t show it. The world has become big and unrecognizable, and without the life experience you have, it can be scary. Social emotional concerns are at an all time high. You have no idea where we are headed either, but your steady presence can help keep his social emotional boat from tipping. Take a moment to put yourself in his shoes. It really is a tough time. Whatever means you use – meditation, deep breathing, exercise, hiding in a bathroom – try to get your emotions in check. This balance will enable you to manager your own emotions and allow you to truly empathize with your child or teen.
  2. Choose an Activity for Each Day – What activities can he do each day of the month? Rather than saying, “Hey, why don’t you create those videos you have always wanted to make,” say, “Why don’t we sit down and draft some quirky topics you can make videos of?” If a new topic is thought of every day, this will help your child stay focused and interested when they are feeling down. If you son loves tennis, maybe he (gently) hits a ball against the wall one day. The next day, he can do so with his backhand. Craft stores are a great way to bring out the creative right brain in all kids. The point here is to build on strengths, develop new interests, and strengthen relationships.
  3. Monitor and Adapt Tone and Banter – Everyone is at their worse when tired, sad, angry and lonely. Remembering this will help when one family member acts out. Come up with a word or phrase that everyone recognizes as the “code” for returning to civility. The whole family should try to be more considerate. Be sure to share with your children what respectful looks like and admit it when you struggle. In a non-shaming way, say the “code” when tempers flare, tone becomes disrespectful and actions are rude. Eventually, you will catch it before you will need to be told.
  4. Tap into Interests and Strengths – It can be easy to get caught in a stage of moping, but this is not a good place to rest. Together, when both of you are in a loving and receptive mood, brainstorms ways to tap into both of your strengths and interests. You both may have more time on your hands than ever before, so make a pact not to squander it. Be each other’s mentors and remind each other what you each like and where you can find joy. Maybe you both will actually come out of the pandemic with a new or renewed passion.
  5. Stay Centered – I know you miss your friends and former activities too. You don’t have to put on a “brave face” and insist all is OK in the world. As parents we are our children’s social and emotional coping models. It is OK, to share your disappointment, you are human too. Together you can come up with ways that will raise every member of the family’s spirits.  Think of it this way – 2021 is “The Year” to break old, stodgy rules.

The pandemic is tough – on every member of the family. Sharing together ways to overcome the struggle will nurture bonds that will hopefully bring up nice memories down the road on how you all pulled through in one of the worse periods in history.

Deeper Dive:

Encourage Social Skills Development

The Silver Lining: Empathy and Kindness

5 Ways Kids & Teens Can Take Back Joy During COVID-19 (& You Too!)

5 Ways Kids & Teens Can Take Back Joy During COVID-19

5 Ways to Find Joy

It’s six months into the pandemic, and your child is feeling the effects. Social distancing, virtual school, the loss of sports, chorus, and connections to friends are overwhelming your child or teen. His energy level is down. She hardly sees friends. All of their “free” time (which is quite a lot lately) is on screens. And most places are likely entering another phase of the COVID-19 lockdown, similar to last March. They’re likely in need of a few ways to find joy—maybe you are too!—so here, my tips to help take back your happiness.

Joy is hard to come by lately. Wouldn’t it be great to order a big box of it on Prime? With so much out of our control, don’t get discouraged. There are things you can do as a parent to create joy and help your child or teen stay centered:

Read more in MindBodyGreen

Social Withdrawal Concerns

“I don’t want to go out” or “No, You can’t see your friends” can be a sign that you are socially withdrawing out of more than just an abundance of precaution. You may be self-isolating out of fear.

Even before COVID19 and social distancing, many of the children and adults I hear from and work with struggled with loneliness and with real intimacy and connection.

Are You Self-Isolating Out of Fear?

Do you find that even if you feel like connecting, that you stop yourself?

Do you decline invitations in person or virtually, eat and spend most of your day alone and find the thought of being social too daunting? If so, it is critical to figure out why. Many people trying to be safe and responsible or who have trouble connecting to begin with find it hard to reach out. How do I do this? What can I say? As time goes on it gets harder. And life becomes less about the joy that connection brings us as social animals and more about drudgery, duties, and tasks. My concern is that long term isolation can lead to depression, addiction, anxiety, mood swings, self-harm,  and that people want to hear from you. And if you struggle, then so many of us professionals, books and resources are here and want to help you. Connection and reaching out is hard right now. It’s easy to slip off our radar and for many it’s easier to stay in their cocoon. Reaching out to connect feels hard. (Please scroll below for suggested resources)

If you fear that you have lost the ability to engage in meaningful conversations with others or will be subjected to the virus every time you leave the house, it is important to face the fear. Fear is normal.  Take small steps, small bites to reach out, to join even a virtual gathering by video.

Humans are Social Creatures

Our human brains are wired for connection so social isolation can become a healthy hazzard. We rely on each other, exchange knowledge and share community. Socially isolating means you are cut off from Human C – What Dr. Hallowell calls, the Other Vitamin C – Human Connection. Lack of human connection removes you from the resources you need, and can land you in a fatigue that is hard to extract yourself from.

Signs of Social Withdrawal

  1. Not calling anyone or answering your phone
  2. Not engaging with others even when invited
  3. Staying indoors all day and night
  4. Justifying working from home as a reason to hide indoors
  5. Shooting quick texts and emails rather than having a live conversation
  6. Becoming critical or even angry at others’ beliefs, behaviors, sanitary measures, etc.
  7. Refusing to allow children or family members to socialize in-person
  8. Increased anger, depression, guilt, boredom

Healthy Social Suggestions:

  1. Don’t keep your thoughts inside. Discuss your concerns with a trusted family member, friend or professional
  2. Take a chance and start a conversation with someone new.
  3. Join a social app, Meetup, chat, etc. to share your thoughts and communicate with like-minded people
  4. Try to avoid the news or discussions that center solely around COVID-19
  5. Get outside! Look at the sky, breath fresh air, take a walk
  6. Practice meditation or yoga to develop deep thinking and focus
  7. Try to figure out why you are reclusive without judging

RESOURCES:

Connection is a Verb

Encourage Social Skills Development

Keep the Social in Social Distancing

Collaborating Virtually at Work and School

Working or learning virtually can be a challenge especially if reading social cues and managing your communication is a challenge.  We have the technology to create and support virtual teams, but collaborating remotely requires special skills.

These tips can help build social and communication skills in a virtual setting: 

  1. Consider who is Your Audience- Think about what you know about the people in each meeting or interactions, what motivates them? What is their history with you? What are their past choices and what does that tell you about how they will react to a situation? Then if need be, pause as you adapt your communication to the audience and consider the situation and their personality.
  2. Use Video Conferencing to Watch for Social Cues- Whenever possible, use a visual medium so you can see the other person’s nonverbal signals and interpret how they feel. Reading body language and facial expressions will help you gauge how to react to the other person, identify how they are feeling and tailor your communications more effectively. Body Language can change the meaning of a simple phrase, so watch the speaker for head nods (agreement), crossed arms (defensiveness), smirking (can mean they agree and are amused or disagree and are nodding politely), and a sigh (frustration).
  3. Read the energy of the other person- Energy tells you so much about another person’s mood. People’s voice, what they say, their body language can alert you to their energy. Consider the energy of the person you are speaking to and ask yourself what does this tell you about their mood? What does that mean about your conversation and how can you adapt your approach to match their energy? The pace of the person’s language can tell you so much about their energy.
  4. Pay Attention to Context- Context is the situation, the environment, the mood, the circumstances and what has been going on. Interpreting the context can help you adjust your message to the audience you are speaking to​ and to remember their thoughts and feelings and how that impacts the conversation.
  5. Read Between the Lines- As you communicate with co-workers and friends from a distance, the way something is said can change the meaning so it is important to read between the lines. Drawn out words change the meaning of a sentence, for instance, a stress on the adjective i.e., “that is SOO nice”, changes the meaning from positive to a negative, snarky comment. Intense verb adjectives and adverbs, such love, hate, and always can be signs of sarcasm.  Reading between the lines can help translate what the person means, allowing you to make a choice on how to respond.

Change can be overwhelming. Rather than worrying about everything at once, a good approach is to pick one mission, one thing to work on and then to focus on that goal.  What you focus on will grow and develop and will help you manage your social relationships virtually.

Top 10 Social Etiquette Faux-Pas During a Pandemic

We’re all figuring this out, yet some of us have adapted to the rules of Pandemic Protection faster and better than others. This is a weird new world, yet community and civility should not be tossed out with our disposable masks!

Some people wear masks driving alone in cars, while others claim they “don’t believe in them.” COVID is real, and its effects will last a long time. As a social skills coach, I see all types of behavior as we adjust to this mask-wearing, distancing new normal.

Here are my top observations of how to inadequately protect yourself and others.  Next time you brave a store trip or visit with a neighbor, see if you recognize yourself in these personnas.

Top 10 Etiquette Faux-Pas During a Pandemic:

  1. Bubble-Buster – These people speed up to you as if participants in The Amazing Race.  Simply turn if they are approaching and moving past you quickly, but if they are lingering, take the high road and move out of the way. When you are in a store, don’t approach someone else in the aisle, just move to the next aisle. When waiting in line, stay 6 feet apart and don’t encroach on others.
  2. Close Talker – They probably were close talkers as toddlers, but why can’t they just get it that you can’t do this now? A friendly, “do you need a mask?” will hopefully signal to them that they need to cover up their droplets. Should that not suffice, be sure to step back, turn your head and awkwardly adjust your mask in hopes they receive the message. If not, run.
  3. Squeezer – As if they have nothing better to do, these folks touch every melon in the grocery store! Please don’t pick up every can, bag and freezer item. You can’t pick things up to read labels right now. I don’t want to touch what you’ve just touched – who knows where you’ve been!
  4. Rule Police – Don’t yell out in the crowded produce area, “6 feet apart!” You didn’t make the rules, so don’t feel the need to enforce them. Let the signs and notices do that.
  5. Can’t be bothered – For heaven’s sake, just wear the mask in public! Have a mask at the ready to speak to someone at a drive up window or to say hello. Buy fresh masks and hand them to those who don’t have one. Yes, this may make them feel as if you are asserting your superiority, but in fact, you are the smart one!
  6. Confused – If you’re not sure of the appropriate etiquette, watch what others do and mirror it. Of course, with the caveat that you aren’t repeating these faux-pas!
  7. Hugger – “I’m a hugger and I can’t help it!” I hear you. I feel the same way, but please don’t hug or touch other people, even an elbow touch on an arm right now is jarring. Yes, it stinks, but it’s necessary.
  8. Pontificator – These guys expound on COVID details in excruciating detail. People are stressed, don’t start big lectures with every acquaintance. Some of us are trying to compartmentalize our fears so we can assume some form of normalcy.
  9. Hoarder – You heard of them, you may even know one or two. As if graduates of Defcon training, these sneaky people take all the toilet paper, wipes and sanitizers before the 2-limit rule was implemented. Don’t take all the supplies left on a shelf, your neighbors are watching and they will be angry because heck, they need toilet paper too!  And, it’s just plain not nice!
  10. Digital Non-native – These people don’t check their emails, rarely text and now are over-whelmed with virtual meetings. We get it, everything and everyone is online now, but please figure out how to join a Zoom meeting or provide a signature electronically. This is not going away.

There isn’t one person on the planet who wishes this pandemic was here to stay. I am tired of it. You are sick of it. And those who lost someone to it especially grieve. Let’s do the best we can to protect ourselves and others so this nightmare can be put to rest.

What Will the Fall Be Like?

Now is the time for parents to contemplate what fall will look like. None of us knows what to expect, but we can’t just adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Measures should be put into place this summer in preparation for a successful school year.

As a social skills coach, I suggest that parents review the social struggles that were most prevalent last year. Did your daughter make friends easily or did she eat alone at lunch? Now would be a good time to ask her if there were people she would like to get to know better. Are there clubs, sports, events etc. that interest her? Find out if enrollment is starting for the fall for the programs she likes. She can ask a friend to join, or do it alone with the plan of making new friends, maybe even from another town. Send a message to the guidance counselor or new teacher and explain her interest in making new friends. She isn’t the first to voice this concern.

If school work was an issue because of executive functioning challenges or attentional issues, reach out to the school administration and ask if you can turn things in differently, or later.

Video interactions are a great way to “play” with others, and older kids can go to the park, etc. with the understanding of distancing.

Now is also the time to create plans and infrastructure around the use of electronics as it is probable that remote learning will be here to stay.

Learn more about how to thrive during the pandemic

 

 

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