A kid’s ability to socialize with peers is critical in helping them alleviate anxiety.
Kids who are normally in school together for six hours a day are now home without their peers—and the emotional effects of this isolation can be significant. While we are seeing that children generally experience mild symptoms if they do contract COVID-19, they are “absolutely little carriers of this infection,” says Sandra Kesh, M.D., doctor of infectious disease at Westmed Medical Group. However, kids need social connection with one another to feel supported and calm, according to Tovah Klein, a child development psychologist in Manhattan. It also makes them feel “less anxious, which is particularly needed during times of change or stress.” Like now, for example.
So what can families do to keep their kids social while still social distancing? These tips from Wendy Proskin, M.D., a pediatrician at Westmed Medical Group, will help you keep your kids safe should you allow them to have playdates during coronavirus. If you’re just not comfortable with that just yet, we’ve included some ways your kids can be social with friends while they are apart.
Can my kids have indoor playdates right now?
Indoor playdates are tricky right now because kids often have trouble keeping their masks on and wearing them properly. It’s probably possible for older kids to have safe, socially distanced playdates, according to Dr. Proskin, but not for children younger than 3rd grade who do not yet understand the concepts of personal space and social distancing. While parents know their own kids and what they are capable of, Dr. Proskin suggests more supervision than pre-COVID playdates.
What kinds of activities are safe for socially distanced playdates?
Luckily, the weather is warm again in New York, and if you choose to allow your child to have a playdate, it can be done outside. Dr. Proskin suggests activities like bike riding (with helmets!) and playing catch and frisbee (as long as kids can remember to keep their kids away from their faces and wash their hands as soon as they’re done playing). Contact sports like basketball, football, and soccer are not recommended right now.
What safety measures should parents take for kid-to-kid interactions?
As we have been doing since the start of the coronavirus, continue to remind your child of the importance of hand hygiene and to keep her hands away from her face. Older kids should keep their masks on if they are in close contact with their friends, but they should stay six feet apart at all times.
Here are seven ways kids can socialize with their friends other than playdates:
Set up an online playdate.
Using a variety of social apps, such as Zoom, Facetime, Google Meet Google Hangout and House Party, kids can arrange to “meet up” with one another in a virtual arena. There are opportunities for one-on-one hangs or group get-togethers—depending on what your child craves. Some even stay online together while doing homework or chores—just to have the peer company that they’ve been missing. Thanks to livestreams, kids can take ‘field trips’ to an aquarium or even a museum together.
Play a game online together.
Another way kids can interact is to join in on a simultaneous activity—like a game. For example, Pogo, Pokemon Go and Facebook Games allow friends to engage in the same game while chatting with one another. They could also meet on a virtual playdate and play the same board game in their own houses. Battleship anyone?
Go on a neighborhood hunt.
Friends within short distances of each other can coordinate I-Spy scavenger hunts—a la the recent trend of people putting rainbows in their windows. Ask a group to leave a specific message or symbol in their windows, or anywhere else that’s visible from a safe distance away. Kids can then go on individual expeditions to find these items.
Mail actual letters to each other
It’s old fashioned for sure but writing and mailing a letter to a friend is still a lovely act. It’s also a great way to practice handwriting and to teach kids how the mail system works. (Many don’t even know about envelopes and stamps.) It may also be an opportunity for intimacy—since online playdates can be overheard. And who doesn’t like to receive something personally addressed to them in the mailbox?
Teach a class on a favorite subject.
Set up an online group playdate for one kid (or even a parent) to teach a lesson. Maybe it’s a magic trick, a song, a Lego tower—or another easy creative project that can be demonstrated and then imitated on the other end. Rotate amongst friends for who will teach the daily or weekly class.
Start a book or film club.
Invite a group of friends to read a specific, age-appropriate book and then set a time for them together to discuss it virtually. (See our list of where you can get free books.) Similarly, choose a kid-friendly documentary for everyone to watch on their own and then make a date to talk to each other about the film. Friends could also watch a film together using the popular Netflix Party app (or Airtime for those without a subscription). Or choose one of these ten other ways to share videos with friends online.
Cook the same meal and dine together
Eating a meal together is a classic way to socialize, so set up some lunch-time playdates—maybe even one where kids eat the same easy meal. Or start the date earlier with a simultaneous cooking experience—the kids can make the same lunch in their kitchens while online with one another. Afterward, they can sit down to enjoy it together.
There are many other ways kids can stay in touch. A phone call, for example, might be just the novel outreach that they’ll cherish. But remember that it often falls to the parents to encourage these exchanges—and to make sure their kids stay virtually social and sane.
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Shana Liebman is the features editor of NYMetroParents. She’s a writer and editor who has worked for magazines including New York Magazine, Salon, and Travel & Leisure,—and she is the mom of two energetic little boys.
Melissa Wickes, a graduate of Binghamton University and the NYU Summer Publishing Institute, is the production editor for NYMetroParents. When she’s not writing, she can be found playing the guitar or eating pasta.