Social distancing and recent school closures have made it difficult for kids to stay connected with their friends. As parents, it’s more important than ever to keep our kids connected to their friends, so they don’t become isolated.
Since parents are advised against in-person playdates and taking their kids to playgrounds, our kids are spending most of their physically apart from each other. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get creative and find ways for kids to remain close.
Set up a virtual playdate (even if they don’t do much during it).
Apps, websites, and services like Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Caribu and Marco Polo make it possible for kids to have some digital time with friends. Whether your child wants to virtually meet up with a group of school friends or simply chat one-on-one with buddy for a few minutes, continuing to interact socially is vital to their well-being.
These apps also help kids stay connected as they would in a school setting, making it possible for them to read to each other, work on a project together, attempt a simple game or simply sit together while doing a bit of schoolwork.In fact, the kids don’t even have to talk—they might simply find comfort in having a friend around. For older kids, their social lives are all online anyway, so it might be an okay time to think about relaxing screen time rules.
Gather their friends for a game night.
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, games have long had a social component for players who weren’t in the same room together. Apps like online game site Pogo allow your kids to play some of their favorite board games, like Monopoly and Yahtzee, with friends without sitting around the same table. It’s also possible to game with friends using Xbox Live and Nintendo Online (both of which require paid subscriptions)—kids can share their usernames and play video games like Minecraft and Roblox against each other.
For something lower-tech, Let’s Play Uno allows kids to play this timeless card game with friends for free. And Pokemon Go lets kids to interact with friends and even track their activity in the game. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the game’s manufacturers have made adjustments to the game that bring the Pokemon closer to home.
Host a movie night and have them all watch together.
Netflix Party lets kids to watch movies together. Anyone with a monthly Netflix subscription can add this free Google Chrome extension. You can synchronize video playback with your child’s friends and add group chat so kids can “talk” during the movie. Anyone in the group can pause, play, fast forward and rewind the movie so everyone is in the same spot. Only those with an invite can get into the party, so parents don’t need to worry about strangers getting into the chat room.
(For those without Netflix, Airtime does something similar for online videos and TV shows, with video reactions instead of text ones.) Grab your kid some snacks, set up a comfy spot on the couch, pop some popcorn, and let them have a long-distance movie night with a friend or two.
Look for (or create!) neighborhood scavenger hunts.
Lots of communities have come together to find ways for kids to leave little messages for each other, even when they couldn’t meet face-to-face. A group of neighbors in Brooklyn, for example, put rainbows in their windows. When kids and their parents went out for walks, they made a game of finding the windows with rainbows and waved to neighbors and friends who passed from a safe distance. Described as a neighborhood game of “I Spy,” The Quarantine Rainbow Connection even has a Google map of participating homes.
Another neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a Shamrock Scavenger Hunt. Families DIY-ed their own shamrocks, taped them to doors and windows, and let families try to spot them on their own time. If you connect with neighbors and start your own spying game, not only will your kids feel connected to their friends, they’ll get fresh air and exercise.
Go retro and mail letters.
Helping kids learn to mail letters to friends is another way to keep them connected. Sure it’s a little retro, but it also teaches them the mechanics of writing a letter and addressing an envelope, which in this age of texting may not be a skill they’ve practiced and developed. Kids can also send drawings or stickers. Don’t worry about spreading the virus via mail, both the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and the WHO (World Health Organization) say the likelihood of contamination with packages and mail is very low.
With all of these at their disposal, along with the newness of navigating homeschool and online learning, kids will find that the need to distance themselves physically doesn’t mean they have to cut off the social ties they have to friends.
Nicole Johnson is a freelance writer whose work has been featured on Al Jazeera, SELF, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Redbook, Parents, Ms., Yahoo, MSN and Vox Curbed.
This article is reprinted from Goodhousekeeping.com.