By Dr. Catherine Gardner, PsyD, JD, Chief Psychologist

Staying connected and engaging socially when physically different is a central part of our mental health. No matter your age, emotional connection is important. It’s especially important for our children. School-aged kids previously had built-in social opportunities five days a week. From the moment they got on the bus or stepped into the classroom, they were surrounded by peers. Now, it can be quite lonely without that interaction. Or, if you have a more shy introverted child, they may be enjoying the distance a little too much, and pulling away in such a way that does not support their emotional and social development.

You don’t have to be in person to engage, and you don’t have to just sit in front of a screen and make conversation. It takes some creativity, but there are fun and even educational ways to remain connected in a digital world. Here are a few ideas that we recommend. While these are focused on video ideas, many can also be done via audio only:

  • Connect virtually via tele-video platform and play a board game! First, choose your digital platform. You can use Zoom for 45 minutes or Google Hangouts for an unlimited time for free. Set up the same board game in multiple locations, log on, and play the game virtually. Having the board game makes in multiple locations makes it easier to keep track of the game & feel as if you’re in the same room! Yahtzee is a lot of fun to play virtually as is Scattegories.
  • Cook or bake together. Choose a recipe, pick a time, and then make same foods in your own kitchen while on video together. This is a great activity for kids!
  • Make Slime together. Slime is easy to do and often you have everything you need in your cupboard already. Pick a time, grab supplies, and turn on the video camera to have a virtual slime date.
  • Schedule a virtual play date for younger kids. This is great for 5-9 years of age approximately. Help them take out action figures, dolls, and other toys, and facilitate pretend across the video.
  • Create family get together times for storytelling or reading a book together. This could be a virtual book club for older kids or adults, or read a story to a young child. This is an especially great way to connect grandparents to younger children who they can’t see right now. Here’s a logistical tip: if you have a music stand, this is a great way to prop up a picture book.
  • Host a virtual party. Invite cousins, aunts, uncles, and/or friends together for a mini-virtual celebration. You can do themes (Hawaii dress-up, fancy attire, rainbow colors), play games, talk about a book, or just catch up.
  • Take full advantage of your child’s therapy time and don’t skip it! Remember this is a way for your child to feel connected. Keep this as a priority in your child’s schedule.
  • And parents, keep your own therapy appointments. We all need self care right now more than ever. Make sure to prioritize you so you can take care of your family too. Take time for self care!

There are many other ways to interact and stay connected during physical distancing, but we hope these give you a place to start. Remember to be gentle with yourself, flexible with your plans, and offer yourself some kindness. If the internet goes out, or the game board falls down, or your child can only handle 5 minutes of slime making, that’s okay. You’re doing a great job and every day you’re showing up. That’s a wonderful thing.