Now more than ever, we’re all realizing how important our family and friends are, but an unfortunate consequence of schools closing suddenly is that lots of children are cut off from the friends they see day in and day out. For many, this is leading to feelings of anxiety and sadness—which are only compounded by the fact that no one quite knows how long this will last.
Many adults have been quick to adapt to the new normal—in part because a good portion of our social lives happen online anyways: we’re used to texting, emailing, video conferencing and DMing. But, the tools we use to stay connected aren’t necessarily kid-friendly, so how should children stay connected when they can’t physically meet up? Below are some tips for helping kids stay in touch with friends during COVID-19.
Start with digital training wheels
Chances are that you’ve moved some of your professional and personal dates online as of late. Most adults have at least a few contacts that they keep up with via technology, so using platforms and apps as a primary means of socializing is a fairly straightforward pivot. But for kids, the playground is where their friendships live, so it’s a good idea to ease into this new reality.
If you’re not already, start including kids in video calls with family or close friends so they get comfortable connecting through a screen. It’s also a good idea to show them some of the other ways you connect through tech—if that’s text, emojis, pictures or videos. Explain that even though they’re using a screen, all the same rules apply when they’re socializing: that means playing nicely and respecting others.
Empower kids to connect on their own
When kids socialize, they usually interact directly with each other, face-to-face. So, finding ways for them to continue building those friendships will help things feel a bit more normal until regular socializing returns. Using an age-appropriate app or platform will give you peace-of-mind to let kids connect on their own without funneling all their messages through you.
Kinzoo is a kid-friendly messenger where parents approve all contacts—meaning that kids can’t accidentally connect with strangers. Once you’ve invited their friends to connect (and their parents have approved), kids will be able to exchange texts, pictures, audio and video messages with each other directly. They can communicate as much as they want in a safe environment—without the dangers that often come with apps and platforms designed for adults.
Embrace the pen pal mentality
With everyone’s schedules upended, it can feel even trickier than ever to coordinate specific times for kids to connect with one another. If you can’t always find the time to arrange and facilitate a video call between your kid and their friends, encourage them to cultivate digital pen pals. Kids can share video or audio messages with friends—and find ways to get creative. Record mini-movies, choreograph a dance one move at a time or write a story together by each adding one sentence at a time.
Explore the world of online gaming
Another way to help kids stay connected (and entertained!) during COVID-19 is through online gaming platforms like Roblox or Minecraft. Parents will need to do a bit of homework to learn how they work, especially since these games let kids connect with other players. While there are some safety features available, parents will need to decide based on their own kid’s age and maturity whether these platforms are appropriate. But, these games can be a great way for children to enjoy an activity with friends because they allow players to chat and collaborate. They offer up opportunities to develop teamwork and problem-solving skills—and because they can be customized, they are especially great for kids interested in learning to code.
Even though they can’t physically play together right now, kids can continue to grow their friendships by finding new ways to share experiences. With a little guidance—and some help from trusted technology, children can keep in touch with their peers, express themselves and even alleviate some of the anxiety that comes from a new situation.