With families mostly stuck at home during the pandemic and many children across the country doing remote learning, it can be hard for kids to make and maintain friendships.
If your child, tween or teen says they’re missing their friends, Kennedy says, “Just remember that it’s not a message about your parenting. It’s not a way of saying you’re not doing enough. Peer relationships really do fill a different bucket, and it’s important to keep those going.”
Janine Domingues, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, agrees, telling Yahoo Life: “We’re social creatures. Connection, especially during a time of high stress like a pandemic, is a resilience factor. Connection is now more important than ever.”
Along with providing companionship and someone kids can talk and relate to, friendships also help kids learn. “It teaches us a lot of skills — how to problem solve, how to work together,” says Domingues.
Connection, especially during a time of high stress like a pandemic, is a resilience factor. Connection is now more important than ever.Janine Domingues, clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute
But before jumping into planning virtual playdates and meetups for your kids, Kennedy says the first step is to know what works best for your child. “Assess whether your child is really interested in having Zoom playdates or going to great efforts to see friends,” says Kennedy. “Or if your child is actually content playing with a sibling or being home. Because sometimes it’s us parents who have more of a worry of what our child needs than our child [does].”
If your child is craving connecting with friends, here are some ways parents can help kids stay social and safe:
1. Plan calls with friends
Between FaceTime and Zoom, it’s easier than ever for kids to call each other and catch up. For younger children, though, it can be hard for them to maintain conversations with friends online like older kids do. That’s why apps like Facebook Messenger Kids where kids can play games together and try out fun filters or Houseparty where you can play online trivia games, Uno, and more, provide activities that can make it more fun and less awkward to connect with friends.
2. Set up virtual playdates online
If your child and her friends are interested in online gaming, some games, including popular ones like Roblox and Among Us, allow friends to join the same game. But before letting a child participate in online gaming, first explore the parental control options and set screen time limits. “If you are allowing your kids to use something like Robolox where there are public servers and open access, before that happens we have to form a connection with our kid and talk about general guidelines,” says Kennedy. “But also how things will go, so they feel comfortable coming to us if something happens” online that bothers or upsets them.
Adds Domingues: “Be informed and check it out to see what you can have control over and where you can meet in the middle, so they can do something that is fun and interactive.”
3. Find a pen pal
If your child loves writing letters and would like to make new friends, talk to him or her about having a pen pal from another country. Several organizations help match children across the globe with each other, such as the Peaceful Pen Pals Project and International Pen Friends.
4. Watch shows and movies together virtually
Your child and a friend can pick a kid-friendly movie to watch at the same time from their respective homes while chatting online. Or try Teleparty, which synchronizes video playback so a group of friends can watch a movie or TV show simultaneously. It also adds group chat to Netflix, Disney, Hulu and HBO so friends can talk to each other during the show.
5. Sign up for online classes
If your child has a hobby he loves, whether it’s coding or crafts, try signing him up for an online class series. It’s an easy way to virtually meet other kids who are around the same age and who share the same interests.
6. Find ways to safely meet in person
Domingues says that some in-person interaction is important for young children, as well as tweens and teens. “There are ways we can do that safely,” she says, such as playing outside at a playground or park while wearing masks or riding bikes together. “Tweens and teens want more independence to be able to do that. Having open lines of communication and talking to the friend’s parents to make sure you’re all on the same page” safety-wise is important, says Domingues.
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