When COVID-19 hit, parenting our kids with medical needs became especially complicated—and the current reopening phase is proving to be just as complex in its own way.
Most families quarantined similarly through the first few weeks of the pandemic. But now that many areas are beginning to re-open, people have started socializing again. For families of high-risk children, however, our quarantines continue. Just as their friends begin going to pools, sleepovers and socially-distanced sports practice, our high-risk kids are staying home and trying to stay healthy.
High-risk kids of all ages are, understandably, feeling left out and frustrated when they see their friends socializing. Younger children may see the neighborhood kids biking together or playing in yards through their windows, while older children may see their friends spending time together via social media.
Keeping high-risk kids connected to their friends is important for social development and emotional health, but keeping them apart is essential for physical health. How can parents manage both?
Here are some simple tips for helping your high-risk child still feel connected to peers while maintaining social distancing this summer.
1. Virtual camp
This year, many activities have gone online—lessons, camps and classes. Look into something that sparks your child's interest and see if you can find a camp or group lesson online. These kinds of activities can help kids feel connected to existing friends, while also helping them build new friendships with children who have similar interests.
Although talking on the phone is an easy way for kids to stay in touch, it just doesn't feel the same as seeing a friend's face. Talking via a video conferencing app, like Facetime, Skype or Zoom, may help kids feel more connected to one another.
Pre-schedule chats just as you would schedule a play date. Make the chats even more interesting by adding activities. There are tons of online apps to let kids play with one another while video conferencing, from online Uno to Battleship to puzzles and trivia games.
Kids can also engage in real activities while chatting. They can paint matching pictures, or build the same creation out of blocks while they talk. Giving kids a shared goal adds some extra excitement and engagement to their chat.
3. Multiplayer games
Depending on your child's interests, consider allowing a little extra video game time for them to engage in child-safe multiplayer games. Some systems allow users to wear headsets so kids can talk to one another while they play. Allowing kids to play preferred games with friends, while actually talking to them, can make a huge difference in how connected they feel to their buddies.
4. Parking lot chats + sidewalk socializing
If your child's medical condition allows, you can find creative ways for them to see friends in person from a safe distance. Meet another family at a local parking lot where you can park at a distance, and allow kids to roll down the windows and talk, open the hatch and sit in the back of an SUV, or sit in a parking spot while talking with friends. Or if your friends live in your neighborhood, have kids stay on their driveway or sidewalk while they talk to friends across the street or across the yard.
During outside chats like these, it's important to supervise children to ensure they're both safe, and safely apart, at all times.
5. Six feet a-party
If you're okay with your child seeing friends from a distance, consider having a "six feet a-party." All guests at the party must stay at least 6 feet apart from one another (you can require them to wear masks, too). For younger children, it can help to mark out a space for each child—draw a large circle with chalk—and encourage everyone to bring their own chair (so nobody touches anyone else's stuff). Kids can talk, listen to music, watch a movie on an outside screen, draw with chalk, eat snacks they brought from home or play word games.
6. Zoom parties
If you're uncomfortable with an "in real life" party, try a Zoom party. Kids can decorate their rooms and then sign in to a video conferencing app at the same time. They can see lots of friends at once while they dance, talk or play games. For younger kids, build in some activities, like Mad Libs, show and tell or Lego building contests. For older kids, let them plan the agenda and have fun reconnecting.
7. Pandemic parades
Pandemic parades have been all over the internet, and for good reason—they're so much fun! If your child loves being the center of attention, coordinate a group of friends to all drive by at the same time. Your child can sit in a chair on the front porch, driveway, or sidewalk—far enough back from the cars to be safe—and chat with friends as they drive by. Extra points for funny or creative signs in car windows!
8. Snail mail
We live in a digital age, but there's still nothing better than getting actual, real mail. Encourage your child and their friends to mail each other letters, drawings or small items. Getting something directly from a bestie is a great way for kids to know their friends are thinking of them. They can also send a letter or drawing back, which helps your child extend that connection while doing a project at home.
Being unable to see friends during this pandemic has been hard for everyone, but it's even harder for kids who are now watching their friends start to go out while they still can't. Remember that developing friendships is a key milestone of childhood, and encouraging kids to stay connected to their friends is important. With a little creativity, you can help your kids continue to stay safe while feeling like part of the group again!