How to help kids socialize safely with friends
One of the toughest decisions we parents have to make during this unusual COVID summer is to figure out what type of social interactions we’re comfortable with for our kids.
Zoom chats with friends may have been fine in March when we were under shelter-in-place orders and it was still chilly outside, but as things have warmed up, your kids have undoubtedly seen others playing together outside and their desire for in-person playtime has probably increased.
If your family is following CDC guidelines and continuing to social distance, this can be a real challenge. It’s hard for your child to see neighborhood kids playing tag or basketball when you’ve emphasized the importance staying apart. But keeping children isolated isn’t good for their mental health either, so what do you do?
Finding a balance is hard, but it can be done. The key is to offer outdoor activities that encourage social distancing in a natural way. (For young children, though, you’ll still want to provide some supervision. Often they don’t understand what six feet looks like, or they get excited and forget to stay apart.)
Here are a few ideas:
Have some wheel fun
The cool thing about bike rides with friends: kids don’t have to be side-by-side to enjoy spending time together. The can ride single file, or find an unused parking lot or green space where there’s plenty of room to circle, weave, or race. Rollerblading or skateboarding can also be safely distanced activities.
Kids can have lots of fun powering remote control cars in the driveway or on the sidewalk. Staying apart is easier (and germ free) if they each have their own controller. Have each child stand at separate sides of the driveway or paved space, and use chalk to mark off areas to stay within as a reminder to not get too close. They can race their vehicles, take turns building piles of sticks or block towers to knock down, or create an obstacle course with anything on hand: rocks, stepping stones, bubble containers, extra bricks, etc.
High-powered water blasters and squirt guns have a good range, and as long as each participant has a boundary to stay within, kids can still have fun targeting each other or another object. With many public pools closed this summer, this is a great substitute water activity for a super hot day.
Nothin’ but net
For older children and teens, a rousing game of badminton can be a lot of fun. This is a great way to get exercise, talk, and just spend time together. While most sets include 4 racquets for team playing, it’s best to use just two and keep the games one-on-one to make sure distancing is observed. You can find badminton sets in many stores as well as online for about $40.
If you have some wiggle room in your budget this summer (maybe tap those funds designated for the pool passes you didn’t buy or sports fees you didn’t pay), consider investing in a projector for backyard movies. A white sheet can be substituted for a screen, and blankets or lawn chairs can be set up to ensure distancing is observed. Each family should either bring their own snacks and drinks for safety. Letting the kids pick the (parent-approved) movie will give them some sense of control over the activity, too.
Taking advantage of outdoor activities where there’s fresh air and plenty of space is a good way to allow your kids some social time this summer. Setting up supervised, safe playdates requires more effort on your part, but it’s worth it to allow your kids a sense of normalcy, which is a huge benefit for their mental health.
Cassie Hart has written for publications, businesses, and organizations for 15+ years. Her special interests include women’s health and wellness, family, dogs, and coffee. She has yet to write a piece that includes all of these topics, but will certainly do so when inspiration strikes. Learn more at www.cassiehartwriter.com