Unbabbled: Changes in Social Norms

Help Your Child Adjust to Frequent Changes in Social Norms

If there is one thing we’ve learned since March 2020, it’s that the rules of our society are frequently changing! The way we grocery shop, go out to eat, attend school, have birthday parties, and even interact with family members have all been altered. With changes to the social rules and expectations occurring in almost every aspect of your child’s life, it’s important to address these adjustments and teach your child how to figure out the new rules and also adapt to them. 

During this bonus Unbabbled episode, Meredith and Stephanie discuss ways to support your child through the ever-changing social norms during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on front-loading situations, looking for clues in new situations, and problem solving when new changes occur.


Stephanie (00:06):

Hello, and welcome to Unbabbled, a podcast that navigates the world of special education, communication delays, and learning differences. We are your hosts, Stephanie Landis and Meredith Krimmel, and we're certified speech language pathologist who spend our days at The Parish School in Houston, helping children find their voices and connect with the world around them. This week, Meredith and I are bringing you a special bonus episode, focused on helping children understand social norms or rules during this ever-changing time. There's one thing we've learned since March, 2020, is that the social rules of our society are frequently changing. The way we grocery shop go out, eat play with friends, attend school, have birthday parties and even interact with family members has all changed. With changes to the social rules and expectations occurring in almost every aspect of your child's life, it's important to teach your child ways to both figure out the new rules and adapt to them. During this bonus episode, we provide ways to help your child deal with changing social norms, using a few simple strategies, including front-loading looking for clues and problem solving. Well, many of the examples are specific to the COVID-19 pandemic. All of the techniques discussed can be used to teach your child about any social situation.

Stephanie (01:25):

Welcome back to Unbabbled. We have our bonus episode today and today we're going a little bit different than a lot of our other topics. And instead of doing a regular back to school podcast, we figured school looks so different for so many people, even just within families, that it's instead be important for us to discuss how everything is changing all the time, right? And with everything changing all the time, all of the rules, all of the social rules, all of the social norms keep changing. So how do we help our kids figure out what those social rules are and deal with all of the changes, because if they're doing school online, if they're coming back to school face to face, even just interacting with family members and friends, going to parks, all of that, the social rules have changed.

Meredith (02:15):

And how do we talk to our kids about that? And how do we prepare them and front load them for success?

Stephanie (02:20):

Yeah. So one of the main things you do, you just mentioned is front loading. So merits, you want to talk a little bit about what front-loading is?

Meredith (02:27):

Sure. Front-loading is providing as much information up front before an activity or an event or a situation so that your child knows what's expected what's going to happen so that they can be prepared to go into that situation successfully. An example of front-loading might be we're going to go on a walk. We might walk by the park, just so you know, the park is closed. So we are not going to go on the park. We're not going to touch the playground equipment. So that's frontloading them. So when you walk by the park, your child knows ahead time. We're not going there. We're not touching the equipment and it makes it much more successful and enjoyable experience for everyone.

Stephanie (03:06):

Another example of front loading is say, you're going back to school in a face to face setting, getting very clear with the school's, teachers and administration, what all those social changes and the school rules are. So you can check with your child ahead of time. So if your school is having you wear a mask, you can let them know, Hey, we're going back to school, but it's expected that you wear this mask all day, except for maybe when you're outside. Here are the times when it's okay to take it off. It's okay to take it off if your teacher tells you to, if your teacher asks you to put it back on, we need to put it back on. Another change is that maybe your school now has plexiglass dividers around their desks. Whereas they were able to in the past free roam and play, now it's expected that you stay behind the plexiglass divider and don't knock it over and don't draw on it. And your teacher will go over many of these rules with your kids, if they return face to face too, but just preparing them. So when they step into that classroom, they're not as surprised, taken aback, and they already have a layer of those expectations that are going to be there.

Meredith (04:14):

Right. I think laying out the expectations as much as, you know, as a parent for your child before you go in, is going to make the transition back to face, to face learning so much easier for everybody. For example, my, my children, we talk a lot about how we used to hug family and friends and how that social norm has changed. So before we started seeing my parents, again, we talked a lot about how we're not going to be hugging and sharing drinks and snuggling and things that were really a part of our normal, which has now changed because of COVID. So frontloading that information and talking about how that expectations have changed.

Stephanie (04:53):

And that's a big one, too. The social norms have changed since all of this started back in March. I mean, the expectation then was you stay in your house, you stay like at least six, but more like 10 to 12 feet away from everybody. You can't go to stores or restaurants and all that. Some of them have slowly started opening back up, but like the expectations at restaurants have completely changed than they have before. So if you are comfortable with taking your child there, explicitly telling them what it looks like to be in a restaurant now, what are the new rules? How can we tell, let's look around these people are wearing mask. It's expected that we may, our mask. They're keeping masks on how do we know when it's okay to take our mask off? And those things are part of reading the clues that are around them.

Meredith (05:44):

I think it's great that you pointed out reading the situation and reading the clues because it's hard, even for adults to stay up to date on things or how things are changing and what the new rules and expectations are. And even I think about when you're around or friends thinking about some people are more comfortable with distance, with no mask while some people are not. And some families, you know, everybody feels differently and has different comfort levels. So not everybody's talking about that out front. So it's really important to watch the other people and read their clues. And then talk to your kids about also doing that. My son talked about seeing a friend and the friend tried to hug him and talking to him about how he can communicate with his friend, Oh, I'm not hugging because of, of COVID and then reading those expectations on the other side. So I think front-loading that change and expectation is important as well, because that might be something that feels really different.

Stephanie (06:34):

Another area specifically to schools and some other business are doing that is having temperature checks and health checks everywhere. And I know this is a big change for people and setting that expectation that no, we can't just walk straight into the school or the store or wherever you might be going and to the doctor's office, maybe just practicing with your child at home. And so that you can be very explicit of like, these are the steps. First we go in, we answer the questions. They take our temperature, we wear our masks. All of this is part of our new routine and as being very explicit. So they don't just like hop out of the car and run by it and they know what to do and what to expect in that. And that they're reading the environment so that they can look around and see which person might be holding that thermometer. And how do you tell who's the person you need to go to for a check? Will you look for the person who's holding the thermometer, maybe with a clipboard. And that's the person that you go to instead of running off, straight to your teacher, if you see them are running straight into, you know, dance class, we have to stop and look first for the person and the clues for them. The social clues are they have the clipboard, they have a thermometer, or they're probably wearing a mask. You know, they probably have gloves on as well. They look like the person of authority and that's who we look for. So that if we come to a new place or there happens to be a new person, doing the temperature checks, you know, that's the person doing your temperature check because there's more clues to it. There's also clues such as we can teach our kids to look for signs when I've gone into stores and our school and other places, there are now big signs on the door that tell us the rules and the expectations ahead of time. Some stores, they are letting unlimited. Number of people on in stores now have signs that say only a certain number of customers. Please wait here until somebody lets you. In the first time I went to a store that had people waiting. I myself, miss the giant sign on the door because I was not paying attention. And somebody pointed it out. The worker very politely was like, we can only have this many people in and pointed to the big sign, which was new for me. And now that I'm aware and know that expectation, I've been checking the signs on the doors. What am I expected to so I can prepare myself ahead of time.

Meredith (08:52):

Yeah. I had a flat tire yesterday and had go to a tire repair shop, which I've not gone really anywhere except for curbside grocery, since all this started and work. And I pulled up and I had my kids in the back and I was like, okay, this is different. I'm seeing like a tent out front. And there's a sign that says check-in I was narrating my thought process, mostly for my own anxiety, but also the benefit of my children, which I think helps with that social awareness for them as well. But, um, I'm seeing a sign that says check in. So I'm thinking I need to pull up here and roll down my window with my mask on because he has a mask on and talk to him and figure out what I'm supposed to do next. And so I think also narrating this process, like you were saying, Stephanie, like, Oh my goodness, can you believe this? Mommy went to the store and I totally missed the sign. And just talking about, you know, this is new for everybody. We're all learning the new context and the new social norms and the new roles.

Stephanie (09:44):

And they change often.

Meredith (09:46):

Yeah. They change often. Yeah. I mean, like you mentioned earlier, first, we were all home. Don't go anywhere. And then it was like maybe masks, maybe not masks it's like some people were wearing them. Some people weren't and then mask were required. And then I know that something that will be different about children returning face to face in a lot of programs. And ours is one of them is that children of a certain age need to wear masks, but other children don't. So I would think, especially if you have a student who's 10 or older, having that conversation of, you know, you'll be wearing a mask, but other kids might not be wearing a mask and explaining why and what the differences there. That might be important too. Cause I think that would be really hard for a child who is wearing a mask when maybe someone else in their class.

Stephanie (10:28):

And same thing if you're sending your child back in they're under 10, but you feel most comfortable with them wearing a mask. I know it makes the teachers feel very comfortable too. And that if they, if you can practice wearing it ahead of time and talk to them about like why it is important and how this is a change and yes, it is a change, but the expectation might be that you can take it off. But we, as a family feel very strongly. So our expectations are different from other people's expectations. And those are very nuanced, tricky conversations for adults. And so being very explicit and telling them the underlying reasons, why is going to go a long way with helping your child make their adjustments to that too? Yeah.

Meredith (11:10):

Yeah, you're right. They are very tricky and nuance. I think about my own extended family, we all have different comfort levels with, um, what we are doing and how we're interacting and mask wearing and not mask wearing. So just being as concrete as possible with our children is really important. But we talk about everybody's different. Everybody's families are different. So we all just have different rules and expectations. If you think about like my son coming home and saying so, and so plays this game, I'm like, well, we don't, we don't play that game in this house. We don't play that video game or whatever it is. Same thing with masks, just saying we're all different and have different rules.

Stephanie (11:45):

One of the other things to keep in mind is that I don't think I'm alone in saying all of the changes gives me some anxiety and every time rules change or procedures change, I need to take a step back and deal with it. I think we also need to let our kids have a space and a safe place that when you are giving the expectations that you are firm with your expectations, but also in a kind and loving way and let them know that things like temperature checks are rule and they're a firm expectation. It's not something that we can skip, but you understand how it could be scary or different. And that we're now having to meet new teachers and you might not know the teacher and you can only see half their face. And you can't tell that they're smiling at you, you know, and that feels hard, but they're very brave and they can do it. And that, you know, this might be temporary hopefully, but that it's okay to have those feelings of frustration. It's okay to be frustrated that you have to wear a mask. They're hot, they hurt your ears. Then you can brainstorm ways to help them get around that. But giving them that time to process and being empathetic while still firm will help them in realizing that these expectations, certain ones are hard and fast expectations.

Meredith (13:06):

Yeah. We're talking about masks and it occurred to me that, you know, some teachers may be wearing face shields, which I think masks are something children are now used to seeing around town in their neighborhoods and, and things like that but face shields might be something new. So pulling up a picture online of someone wearing a face shield, showing them what a facial is and what it does and why, why someone might be wearing it. That might be a good way to front load your child for a change. Because I do know a lot of our teachers are probably going to be wearing face shields.

Stephanie (13:34):

Yeah. It's really hard to do or to work with children or teach them the phonetics that they need to, to read when your face is hidden behind a mask and muffled.

Meredith (13:46):

I know I hate that. I can't see smiles. I'm, I'm becoming a lot more reliant on eyebrow movement and eyes. So that's something you can talk to your kids about too. You know, especially when we think about social cognitive challenges, we talk about facial expressions a lot and smiling and grimacing and frowning are often things that we use to, to determine how someone's feeling. So talking to your kids about other ways you could watch their body, how their body moves, how their arms move, how their eyebrows move, and really relying on other cues to tell us how someone might be feeling.

Stephanie (14:19):

Yeah, that's completely changed the way that we've had to, to look into that is that you're really relying more on tone of voice and really subtle things like eyebrow movements or somebody's leaning away from you a little bit that are way less clear and dry and cut as like a smile or a big frown. Yeah.

Meredith (14:41):

Yeah. So that, that might be something to talk to your kids about other ways that you can read someone's emotions and feelings.

Stephanie (14:49):

And as we talk, these expectations go through and think in your brain, where are all the things, places that my kids might need to go in the next few months that has changed. My children had to go to the dentist and we even went through and my husband and I did the same thing that you did. We spoke out loud and read from the website, all of the new changes multiple times so that we would be familiar. But I didn't even think about the small thing that my daughter has some anxiety with going to the dentist. And she usually takes a stuffed animal and she can hold onto the stuffed animal. And our dentist is so sweet and kind that oftentimes the stuffed animal gets a little tooth checkup before she does. And this time my daughter went to go grab her stuffed animal before we left. And we forgot they don't have toys there anymore. They took them all out. She can't take her stuffed animal and we had to then brainstorm like something different. So we came up with a plan. She has a smooth little rock that we let her take in her pocket that she could rub when she felt anxious because a rock could stay in her pocket. It could be easily washed off. And that could still meet her need of feeling safe and having a security item there with her without having the stuffed animal. The same thing might happen as your kids try and transition back to school. The expectation here has changed that we can't allow kids to bring comfort toy items, especially not stuffed animals anymore in. And so what can you brainstorm? What's the new expectation that you can work through with your child? Like stuffed animals have to stay home, show and share objects, have to stay home. You know, you can't bring your, your lovey for some of our younger kids. Like what can we do and brainstorm and set new ways that we can directly work on this and practice it at home before you can.

Meredith (16:33):

That's a great point. The flexibility with it, all things are, as things are changing, asking our kids to be really, really flexible and modeling that flexibility. I mean, I know I've had, obviously all of us have had to be really flexible, uh, during this time. So modeling that and working with the problem solving problem, solving through it, that's really important. And front-loading gives you the opportunity to problem solve before you're in the actual situation. So when you're talking about, we're going to go back to school and this is what we are going to do, and this is what we're not going to do that will provide that opportunity for your child to be like, Oh, well, at least I can take bunny with me or whoever. And then you can problem solve there and not at drop off on day one at school,

Stephanie (17:17):

Or as you're trying to get into the car and they're dragging their lovey and they're already anxious and upset. And you're like, oh nope, can't bring that anymore.

Meredith (17:25):

You know, something that has worked for my son since he was really little, is when he wants to take things to school is leaving it in the car and then he leaves it in his car seat. So he gets it for the car ride. He puts him in the car seat. We talk about how Blue will protect the car while he's at school. So like, he feels like Blue has a job. So that could be a strategy as well, you know, leaving it in the car.

Stephanie (17:48):

On top of, we've also been talking about a lot of like talking things through, but you can play them out and you can also role play and script. So when they get to that point where they have to problem solve, like the example of your son saying that his friend wanted to come up and give a hug, then you can give them some scripts. So it's automatic and they don't feel as anxious in the moment or are they aren't searching for words of things to say, when somebody wants to hug, high five, wrestle at school, and that way they have something go to, like mommy says, I can't hug, but I can high five or no hugs, but we can flip, tap air high, five air hug, different things that you can teach them. So in that moment, they have a way to problem solve with their peer. Instead of being on the spot of like, Oh, I can't hug and then just crying or running away or hugging anyway.

Meredith (18:36):

Yeah. My son came home when someone did hug him, another child hugged him and he was so anxious and worried about, he hugged me and I didn't know what to do. And it occurred to me in that moment that also I need to, to talk to him about just because you hug someone once doesn't mean that you're going to get COVID and get sick. So we talked through that too. We're trying really hard to do these things. Sometimes it might not be possible to do all these things, but we're trying really, really hard, but he was so worried and anxious that that hug was so bad. You know? So also talking about to our kids about, you know, being flexible, flexible, and working hard to do these things, but sometimes they might not work.

Stephanie (19:17):

We can't put the pressure on ourselves as parents to come up with every possible scenario that our child is going to go through. So letting them know, hey, problems are gonna come up, different situations will come up. Here's the way we can read it. The best we can look towards seeing what your other peers are doing. Model their actions, look to what your teacher's doing, model their actions. And if it's different, we haven't talked through that scenario, just try and go with what they're doing. Or if you get to a situation that's different and you're looking and you're thinking these aren't one of the things my mom told me to expect, ask, teach them to ask, what am I supposed to do or what's going on? Or where do I need to sit and go through little scripts of, if you don't know what to do, ask, which cam be really hard.

Meredith (20:03):

Yeah. I don't always like asking for help, even though I try really hard to fit in and follow the social norms. And that's part of the anxiety of reading the signs at the tire shop, you know, trying to work through it and figure it out. So I don't have to ask, which is so silly because going up to someone and saying, where should I park? Not what do I do now? Yeah. Why do we get so hung up on that? But we do in our kids do just making it okay. To ask and okay. To, to make a mistake. Yeah.

Stephanie (20:32):

We're all gonna make a mistake. Right.

Meredith (20:35):

So anything else you can think of that would be important to talk to our kids about?

Stephanie (20:39):

Just reinforcing that, that you can still have friendships and still interact with students. And, um, the teacher still likes you, even if they're not as affectionate or giving hugs or can't give high fives and have to stay away. Same thing with family, family members still love you. Even if they have to sit on the other side of the room, you're still loved and safe. The rules are just a little different right now. Yeah. If you have any other questions about expectations or how's things have changed socially or teaching your kids how to read social clues, a great resource that we use here on campus and encourage a lot of parents to go to is the social thinking website, which is socialthinking.com. They have a lot of free resources. They have a lot of information for parents that'll teach you how to front-load. Or learning more about what expectations and how to read the room so that you can help your own child do that. There's a lot of great information there at that website.

Meredith (21:41):

And I think you can even possibly get things like social behavior maps off their website, which is a way to kind of walk through expectations and what's expected and what's unexpected and kind of what the consequences of, of doing those actions are.

Stephanie (21:55):

So if you have any questions, you can always reach out to us through our email or on social media.

Meredith (22:00):

And always ask your teacher, if you have questions about what the classroom will look like, so you can front load your children. That's a good idea, too.

Stephanie (22:07):

Good luck everyone.

Meredith (22:11):

Thank you for listening to the unraveled podcast. For more information on today's episode, please see our episode description for more information on The Parish School, visit parishschool.org. If you're not already, don't forget to subscribe to the Unbabbled podcast on your app of choice. And if you like what you're hearing, be sure to leave a rating and review a special thank you to Stig Daniels, Amanda Arnold and Stella Limuel for all their hard work behind the scenes. Thanks again for listening.