Reestablishing social support systems is one of the oldest and most powerful of crisis interventions when having faced a crisis. COVID-19 proved to be an enduring crisis that affected all of us. As caregivers for our children and students, parents should understand the role they play in facilitating social support.
Types of social support include emotional support, such as validating and listening to our children when they want to express feelings; instrumental support occurs when we are willing to do specific things for our children such as helping facilitate past typical summer activities that were not able to be conducted last summer; and informational support such as providing children the opportunity to problem solve and/or provide helpful tips and information to address problems and tasks.
Social support comes from multiple sources and includes:
Family members, especially parents
Teachers, counselors and other recreational supervisors, if available, during summer activities
Classmates, friends, and other adults
Social media, when used in moderation
Note that there are some developmental differences in children and youth as to who they view as most important social support providers. Younger children tend to rely on family members such as parents and grandparents for social support. Adolescents have begun to rely on peers, extended family and romantic partners for support. Cultural factors also play an important role in providing social support where family support is viewed as more helpful than support from professionals. Moreover, the church and religious community prove to be important sources of support for many.
Last summer, children and youth had to forgo their many routine summer recreational and social activities. It is important to revisit these again this summer with the awareness that some modifications might be required. Make sure to involve students in making such decisions as crises often make us all feel helpless and powerless. Seeking and promoting their input gives children and youth a sense of control and of ownership that not only promotes cooperation but also heightens their self-confidence.
Caregivers should remain up to date about best practices around health and safety in regard to COVID.
In a recent article from Consumer Reports, key takeaways include the following:
• Thirty-seven percent of parents/caregivers don’t expect their kids to have a typical summer this year, according to a recent nationally representative Consumer Reports’ survey.
• Fully vaccinated teens can safely hang out together without a mask. For kids under age 12, who aren’t yet eligible for vaccination, social distancing, and mask-wearing guidelines still apply.
• Unvaccinated kids can visit and stay with fully vaccinated friends or relatives from one other household as long as none of the unvaccinated kids are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
• If two families with fully vaccinated adults and unvaccinated kids want to vacation together, they should stay in separate accommodations.
• Booking a camp for your child? Pick one where kids spend the day in small groups, mostly outdoors and physically distanced, and wear masks when they’re indoors.
• Experts say that road trips are safer than air travel for families.
PBS CoCAL has offered other tips for parents and other caretakers to consider, especially focused on the importance of promoting children’s mental health.
Given the importance of parents and other caretakers in facilitating social support, it is critical that they feel empowered to do so. Given that it is most likely that most schools will return to in-person learning next school year, it is important that caregivers obtain regular and updated information from their schools to find out what to expect for their students and then share that information with their students in a developmentally appropriate manner.
Finally, as with the warning that adults should be the first to breathe from drop down oxygen masks when planes have a sudden dip in air pressure, it is critical that parents and other caretakers be mindful of their own self-care.
For more information on family support during COVID, read Dr. Pesce's article, COVID-19 and Its Challenges for Families.
Mental Health America Illinois
Get Help: Resources for You or Your Loved Ones
National Child Traumatic Stress Network
Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope With the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Taking Care of Yourself
Brock, S. E., Nickerson, A. B., Louvar Reeves, M. A., Conolly, C. N., Jimerson, S. R., Pesce, R. C., Lazzaro, B. R. (2016) School Crisis Prevention and Intervention: The PREPaRE Model (2nd ed.). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.