Keeping Close While Afar

By Caroline Segal, Ph.D

We are ending our seventh month of pandemic life, and the first month back to school, whatever that looks like for your family. This has likely been one of the most challenging exercises in resilience and adaptability that most of us have ever faced. No matter what ups and downs you have encountered along the way, you deserve major cheers for supporting yourself and your family through this difficult period.

As the weather cools down and the school year ramps up, you may find it more challenging to help your kids maintain their social health and wellbeing in a continually socially distanced world. Use the ideas below to help your family sustain social connections outside the home.

Keep Virtual Gatherings Interesting

By now, you and your kids are probably pretty accustomed to spending time with friends and family on virtual platforms, such as Zoom or FaceTime. Whatever platform your children use to connect, get to know its functionalities. Learn how to change your background image, use filters, or send emojis. Discovering new and fun ways to use video-chat platforms will encourage your children to use them with friends and reduce “Zoom burnout.”

If your children are getting bored with Zoom playdates, help them think outside of the box when coming up with activities to do with friends. Have them think about the things they used to enjoy doing with friends in person and see if you can adapt them to a virtual environment. Suggestions include going on scavenger hunts, playing I Spy, and putting on talent shows.

Explore Non-Virtual Ways to Stay Connected

Every family has a different comfort level with in-person visits. Have a family meeting to make sure everybody is clear on your family’s parameters (e.g., your family’s guidelines for wearing masks, social distancing, meals, indoor vs. outdoor visits, etc.). Giving your children concrete instructions and explicit language to use will help them stay safe and know how to self-advocate respectfully with friends whose families may have different rules.

Aside from direct visits, there are plenty of other offline ways to foster a sense of connectedness to loved ones. Take your children on a journey back in time to when snail mail was a more prominent form of social interaction. You can encourage them to write letters, make collages/drawings, or send care packages to family and friends.

Finally, one of the main goals of social distancing is not just to take care of yourself, but rather to take care of each other. Help your children maintain a sense of connection to their community through empathy-building projects, such as writing thank you notes for postal workers in sidewalk chalk, delivering food to someone in need, or raking an elderly neighbor’s leaves.

Stay Mindful of Wellbeing

Maintaining social connections these days takes more effort and creativity than ever. In order for your children to be ready and able to engage, it is critical to make sure their other needs are met. Make sure they get enough sleep, eat balanced meals, and get some exercise every day.

Finally, the best way to support your children is to support yourself. Model healthy social connections for them by making the time and space to keep in touch with your own friends and family. It will help keep you sane to maintain your roots outside of the home, and it will help your children learn the importance of staying connected.

Caroline Segal is a psychotherapist and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Sasco River Center in CT. She specializes in the treatment of child and adolescent anxiety, depression, trauma, and behavioral issues.

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