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What to Do When Your Kid’s Friends Aren’t Social Distancing

A boy sitting on a windowsill, sad because he can't play with his friends.
Tomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock

Even if your child grasps the general concept of social distancing, she might feel confused or angry when her friends are still allowed to play together. Here’s how to navigate this challenging time.

Many parents are approaching this stage of the pandemic differently. Some have decided to send their kids to in-person summer camps, whereas other families are dedicated to hunkering down for the long-term.

With some states reopening, the temptation to jump back into normal life is strong—especially for those who thrive on social interactions.

However, if you prefer to continue social distancing, it’s more than okay to stand firm. We’ll explore some techniques you can use to help your child cope with missing his friends.

Really Listen to Your Child

A mom hugging her daughter while listening to her concerns.

It’s important to make sure your child’s sadness, grief, and anger are heard. For many children, their friends are the highlight of their life. Having to forgo months of social interaction can feel like Armageddon.

Furthermore, your kid might struggle with seeing certain friends who are allowed to play together or hang out at the mall, while others remained confined to their homes. What’s up with that?

Before jumping into a logical explanation, take a moment to really listen to your child. Reassure him that his feelings are valid and offer a hug, or some ice cream, or whatever else might comfort him.

You can also express your own sadness. Perhaps you’ve had to miss your cousin’s wedding or cancel a date to see your favorite band. Sharing your own disappointments shows your child that he’s not alone in his struggles.

Explain Your Specific Reasons

Getting to the core of your reasons for social distancing can help you and your child get on the same page. Try to avoid blanket statements, such as “No, you can’t play with your friends.” Instead, find time to sit down and have a deeper conversation about why it’s important to stay home right now.

Perhaps someone in your home is at a higher risk of COVID-19 complications, or maybe grandma is staying with you, and you have to take extra precautions to protect her. Your reason can even be as simple as, “I’m really worried about us getting sick and want to keep everyone safe.”

However, try to keep your list of reasons short and direct. There’s no need to throw in scary statistics or share the latest news reports unless your child is old enough to cope with such details.

For younger kids, try to come up with a simple analogy that helps explain the complicated nature of COVID-19. Plenty of parents have had luck with the poop-in-the-pool analogy.

It basically explains why everybody gets out immediately when a kid accidentally poops in a public pool. And, of course, no one can get back in until it’s all cleaned up and safe to swim again.

If you haven’t yet had any real conversations with your kids about the pandemic, you might want to read more about how to talk to them about scary news.

Brainstorm on Safe Activities

If your child is grieving the lack of face-to-face time with her best friends, consider making a list of activities that can be done safely.

For example, your child can take a friend on a hike, enjoy some outdoor roller skating, or even go fishing, as long as they wear masks the entire time. Since it’s hard to enforce the six-feet apart rule with kids, we suggest you get creative.

For example, customers at this German cafe wore pool noodle hats to maintain social distancing. While that might be a bit too silly, you can take a more serious cue from public parks that have placed circles on the ground to help people maintain distance. As long as your child and her friend are outdoors and not hugging, it should be fairly safe.

Another idea is having a campfire in your backyard. The kids can roast marshmallows from opposite sides of the fire pit. Or, consider throwing a neighborhood block party and use chalk outlines to help everyone stay at least six feet apart.

Allowing your child to engage in a few of these in-person activities can go a long way toward fulfilling their social needs.

Strengthen Online Connections

A young girl waving at her friends on a video conference call.
MIA Studio/Shutterstock

Online friendships just aren’t the same as the real thing. Even so, a dear friend waving at you on a screen can still brighten your day.

Don’t wait for your child to initiate a Zoom or FaceTime call. Go ahead and give them a nudge, like: You haven’t talked to Katie in a while. Let’s video chat with her!

There are plenty of other ways to connect online besides video chatting, including playing virtual games, enrolling in the same online camp, or using the Netflix party option.

All of these activities can help your child feel connected, and thus, relieve some of the anxiety of missing out on in-person interactions.

Plan Future Adventures

Many kids (and adults) worry that what’s happening now will be the new norm forever. Yikes! It’s important to remind your children that social distancing won’t drag on for years. You can talk about how scientists are working fast to come up with a solution that will keep everyone safe and healthy so the world can go back to normal.

Explain how your child gets her yearly flu shot to help protect her and others, and that the COVID-19 vaccine will hopefully work the same way.

Then, start planning your next family trip. You can do this in a notebook, on a whiteboard, or even make a spreadsheet and print out all the ideas. Be as detailed as possible, such as planning a beach trip, a week-long visit to Disney, or maybe even a ski adventure. List the friends your child wants to bring along on each trip.

Of course, you’ll have to try to remain vague about the exact dates, as you don’t want to get their hopes up that something will happen this Christmas or even next Spring Break.

This is a challenging time for everyone, but especially for children who are missing their friends. Allow them to voice their concerns, and offer them as much support as possible. Then, try to find an activity they can do with their friend while maintaining social distancing.

Above all else, remind them this won’t last forever. Things will get back to normal in the future, and they’ll be able to once again share a milkshake with their besties.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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