Staying Social While Social Distancing
Tips, tricks, and resources to help kids of all ages stay connected.
As the shelter-in-place drags on, we are hearing more and more families express concern regarding the possible impact of all this social distancing on their kids’ social functioning.
The bottom line? We just don’t know yet.
In any ambiguous, unknown situation, our minds try to generate conclusions– and often, the conclusions we leap to actually involve the worst case scenario. It is completely understandable to worry about our kids’ social development– after all, they are indeed getting a lot less contact with other kids than they would in the context of normal daily life.
But remember: we just don’t know yet! We’ve never been here before. At the very least, every kid is basically in the same boat (so it’s not like your kid is going to show up next fall and be the only one who’s missed out!). Remember: there are many possible outcomes… and also many possible ways that we as parents might be able to mitigate any negative impact. We can make a point of increasing positive connected family time, and also try to prioritize offering our kids other opportunities for social contact with friends and family outside our homes while we continue to physically distance.
If your kid hates Zoom– or struggles with distractions or staying engaged when participating in video interactions– THEY ARE NOT ALONE! This is a universal parenting struggle right now. The demands of interacting by video are challenging even for fully developed, socially skilled adults– and kids’ attention spans and social skills are still works in progress in a way that makes video interaction even more difficult. (Plus, let’s face it– kids and parents alike, we are all suffering from Zoom exhaustion!)
This doesn’t mean that you should totally drop it (although you CAN, especially optional Zoom activities outside of your control that are challenging and/or aversive for your child!). Instead, I’ll encourage you to prioritize and scaffold Zoom time in order to make it feel more engaging and yield more opportunities for kids to feel connected.
3 Rules of Thumb for Zooming-in With Kids
- Keep it short and sweet, especially for younger kids!
- Make it activity-oriented rather than expecting kids to sit facing the screen just having a conversation.
- Map out a plan with your child ahead of time— for an activity, a theme, questions he/she can ask other participants, etc.
16 On-screen Activity Ideas for Kids & Families
- Online versions of board/card games (e.g., Uno) or adapting board/card games both kids may already have at home to play successfully via Zoom (e.g., Exploding Kittens, Battleship)
- Ordering the same Lego set with one or more friends, then simultaneously building over Zoom
- Scavenger hunts (lots of ideas here!)
- Themed Zoom playdates (e.g., dress-up, tea party, baking or cooking, art– there are lots of great ideas online for virtual birthday parties for kids that are easily adaptable to a playdate!). We’ve even seen families delivering activity kits to other families (e.g., art kits, baking ingredients), THEN doing those activities together by video!
- Trading short pre-recorded video text messages rather than (or in addition to) live-streaming video contact
- Grandparents or other family reading books to kids over Zoom.
- Game & Drawing Apps and websites that allow kids to play with other kids or family (Caribu, Together, Facebook Messenger for Kids, Doodle.ly, Drawasaurus, Skribbl.io, Just One, Game Pigeon, Kahoot, Words with Friends, Heads Up)
- Taking a pre-recorded or live-stream online class simultaneously by Zoom with friends or family (ArtHub, Wendy MacNaughton, Mo Willems, Ready Set Draw, Happy Heart Studio art & mindfulness, Little Flower Yoga, Cosmic Kids Yoga, GoNoodle, martial arts, fitness, our June class for teens… the options are infinite!)
- The HouseParty app for multi-kid video chats
- Netflix parties for older kids and teens
- Livestream family dance parties (e.g., Baby Rave), taking on a TikTok dance challenge together while on Zoom, or building a TikTok collaboratively with friends (has your teen mentioned the Don’t Rush Challenge?!)
- Minecraft, Animal Jam, Roblox, or other multi-player games with community chat
4 Off-Screen Ideas for Kids & Families
There are also off-screen options that can help kids continue to feel connected!
- Exchange letters or postcards with friends and family (or even send a hug!).
- Participate in the good old-fashioned kind of chain mail that everyone loves to hate.
- Drop off or mail surprise packages to other kids and families you know (we got flowers from one family in my older son’s preschool class, donuts from another, and a cool giant sign from our neighbor’s elementary schooler… all of which were utterly thrilling to my three year old!).
- Or find ways to get in-person social contact, six feet apart: birthday cake across front hedges (see this family celebrating Grandma’s 99th Birthday!) front yard joke booths, multi-family hikes with masks and/or walkie-talkies, Dolores Park social distancing circles,
If you’ve gotten this far and are feeling overwhelmed, please remember: I’m offering you these ideas and resources as a way to mix it up if what you’ve been trying isn’t working, or to take some action if you are worrying about the possible social impact of sheltering in place on your kids– NOT because I expect you to become the equivalent of a family cruise director, killing yourself to plan one crazy Zoom playdate after the next! As always: take a deep breath, do what you can, when you can manage it.
Sending warm wishes, from my family to yours!
** Please keep in mind that we’re offering options here for kids of all ages– and encourage you to investigate and decision-make about what feels most appropriate for your own child/family! Common Sense Media is a great tool to learn more about apps, games, and other online content for kids and teens.
And finally: a few great, related reads (some of which are also embedded in the text above):
- My kids are allergic to video chats (NY Times)
- Why I won’t sacrifice my sanity to my kids’ online schooling (WBUR)
- Online playdates, game nights, and other ways to socialize at a distance(Common Sense Media)
- Eleven creative ways to connect with family and friends while social distancing (SimpleMost)
- Coronavirus isolation: How to help children feel a little less lonely(Kars4Kids)
- Will the pandemic have a lasting impact on my kids? (Greater Good Magazine)… or, the extended version from the same author: Pandemic 2020: Will the kids be all right? Lessons on parenting from 100 years of crises (Developmental Science). Spoiler: having a connected adult is hugely protective.
- Also: thinking about how to expand your social bubble as the shelter-in-place restrictions lift? I adore Emily Oster (Brown University economist, author of several evidence-based and non-alarmist guides to parenting), and she recently published a newsletter with a framework for decision-making that I found helpful. Read it here.