Just because your children can’t be in the same room as their friends, doesn’t mean they can’t still socialize with the introduction of virtual playdates. Free and readily available technology such as FaceTime, Zoom, and Skype make it easier than ever to see friends and even share in some activities without physically getting together.
“While we navigate necessary social distancing, it’s important for kids to still have the opportunity to exercise and build upon their social skills through non- conventional mediums, like virtual playdates,” says Dr. Soraya Lakhani, registered psychologist and director of Yellow Kite Child Psychology.
“Social interaction is important to overall well-being. For kids, social interactions are really valuable and important learning opportunities. Through spending time with others, kids learn how to express and accept ideas, to share, to compromise, to resolve conflict, and to self-regulate. They learn how to cooperate and read non-verbal cues.”
The right routine
In these uncertain times, it is important to keep to a routine as much as possible and for many kids, socializing with friends is part of their daily lives.
Allison Horvat and her three-year-old daughter Lily recently recorded themselves reading one of their favorite books and uploaded the video to YouTube to share with friends and family. They are encouraging their friend circle to do the same to create a ‘virtual library’ where they can hear comforting stories and see familiar faces.
“She’s a social butterfly and, sadly, spending all day with mommy is simply not cutting it,” says Horvat of her daughter.
“She’s good at playing by herself, but she much prefers spending time with other kids and I thought this was the best option currently available.”
If you are wondering how to schedule virtual dates, a good time may be when your kids would normally attend an extracurricular class or sport, such as swimming or gymnastics. Turning that time into a virtual gathering could decrease disappointment (and potentially acting out) during those times.
Lakhani says social distancing also provides the opportunity for family connection and allows children to find inventive ways to entertain themselves.
“This period of social distancing is an opportunity for parents and kids to build stronger connections, and for kids to learn how to be happy with their own company - to tolerate boredom and generate creative solutions,” she says.
“These are unusual circumstances, but there are still ways to fulfill children's social needs and find positive opportunities.”
Technology is also a great way to catch up with grandma and grandpa. “Younger kids are also more concrete, so face-to-face time is an important mode of connecting with and nurturing relationships with friends and extended family,” suggests Lakhani.
“Not having those outlets can make kids feel a little bit more isolated and distant from those in their life and impact their ability to expand their social toolkit. But, of course, it’s not all bad news! As always, there are ways to adapt to new circumstances. Virtual playdates are a wonderful option, as are video chatting with friends and extended family,” says Lakhani.
Horvat says one of the main reasons she wanted to take part in some virtual play with her daughter is it is hard for Lily to understand that just because she doesn’t physically see her friends anymore, doesn’t mean her friends have disappeared. “Sharing with them and doing things for them reminds my daughter that her friends haven’t vanished; they are still her friends and she is safe,” says Horvat.
The value of virtual
Lakhani says although face-to-face playdates are preferable under normal circumstances, there are a number of benefits that virtual playdates present, including:
“The kids involved have the opportunity to show and tell about their home environments,” adds Lakhani.
“For parents, virtual playdates might require a little bit less supervision and create opportunities to multitask while the playdate is happening,” says Lakhani.
Horvat says getting some work done and having a bit of time where her attention doesn’t have to be 100 per cent focused on entertaining her daughter is a huge benefit to connecting with other kids virtually.
Horvat recommends virtual playdates and recording videos for friends and family to other parents but cautions that they may need to let go of expectations. “Don’t add more stress to your plate,” she suggests.
“Your child may not be into it that day and they don’t feel like talking, or they don’t like the activity you planned to do together. That is okay, and doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that your kid has failed. We are all doing our best and if you give a virtual activity a go but it turns out to be a flop, don’t beat yourself up,” says Horvat.
If you are wondering how to fill the time during a playdate, there are a number of options, including:
Now may be the time to set your older child up with their own email account so they can share text, videos, photos and more with their friends digitally.
Stacie is a freelance writer and editor and mother of a delightful daughter, five, and silly son, two.
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