Child development specialist says kids need to play, interact with peers
K-State Research & Extension
MANHATTAN – While many parents may be feeling relieved after months of schooling their children, the re-opening of schools – even if on a limited basis – is likely to be even more uplifting for the kids.
Bradford Wiles, a Kansas State University child development specialist, said it’s particularly important that school-age children spend time interacting with their peers.
“That is a huge element of what you’re learning in those early years,” he said. “We think about what we learn early on and so often it is said that play is the work of early childhood. That’s exactly what children need: they need to be able to play and interact. It makes a huge difference in their development.”
The ongoing health threat of the COVID-19 pandemic may not make it possible for youth to be back to school full time, but every little bit helps, according to Wiles.
“I think that’s really a good reason why the hybrid model (of schooling) has been implemented,” said Wiles, referring to a decision by many schools to provide part-time instruction in person and part-time remote learning. “The hybrid model allows for the things that young children really need.”
For their part, parents can help their children adjust to hybrid or other learning by them understand the new routines.
“Routines are critical for everything that we do,” Wiles said. “Routines are critical for young children because it’s how they reduce anxiety, knowing what to expect. That is gigantic in a young child’s mind.
“Right now,” he adds, “young children don’t know what to expect. They don’t know what learning is going to look like and the don’t know what their days are going to look like. The best thing I can say for parents and primary caregivers is that regardless of whether you are doing a remote learning model, a homeschooling model or a hybrid model, the best thing you can do for your children is to establish and maintain routines. That will help them in all the domains of learning because it gives them an idea of what to expect.”
Wiles said parents are also their child’s best teacher for some important life lessons.
“Nobody who is living through this pandemic will ever forget this period of time,” he said. “The thing that I want parents to understand is that they are also modeling how to handle adversity at this time, and they are modeling what good relationships look like.”
“In my own home, things get tense and things are hard. How do you handle that? How do you work through that? How do you talk to your children, spouse or other people in the household? Those are important elements.”
Wiles noted that parents should not beat themselves up when things don’t go as hoped.
“We are going to make mistakes; everyone does,” he said. “But we should remind ourselves that this is a very difficult time for all of us and our children are looking up to us. Whether you think they are paying attention to you or not, I promise you they are paying attention.
“You, as a parent, are their model for how things go. Recognizing that and doing your very best to model how to handle adversity is the best advice I can give any parent.”
Wiles manages a laboratory in K-State’s College of Health and Human Sciences, called Applied Research in Child Health and Enhancing Resilience (ARCHER). For more information on child development, visit the lab’s website.
Parents need to take care of themselves, too
Kansas State University child development specialist Bradford Wiles said that parents need to remember to take care of themselves even while helping their children through changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What I really want parents to recognize is that it’s a challenge and they need to be able to take care of themselves and forgive themselves for things they can’t control or stay on top of,” Wiles said.
For the last five months, parents have played varying roles of teacher, in-class support staff and maybe even technical support specialist.
“Essentially, we just pile on these different roles and responsibilities and no one person can handle all those things,” Wiles said. “It’s just not healthy. There’s a reason we sent kids to school before the pandemic and part of that is that it’s really burdensome for adults to be tied to their homes during the day.”