Helping Lonely Children During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Social distancing has made many kids feel lonely and cut off from friends.
Posted Jun 27, 2020
A client of mine told me, “I miss the kids I didn’t talk to at school.”
After months of not being able to get together with their peers, many children are feeling very, very lonely. They miss their friends, but they also miss just being around other kids.
The isolation that comes with prolonged social distancing is a heavy burden for children. It can even strain existing friendships. Interactions that used to be easy and fun now feel forced and awkward. Some children are even reluctant to reach out to friends because they don’t have anything to talk about.
As a parent, you’re probably acutely aware of how social distancing has affected your child. Here are some ideas of how you might be able to make this difficult situation a little bit easier for your child.
1. Look for new ways to connect online
Kids don’t maintain friendships by just staring at each other through screens. They need to do fun things together. For some children, video games can be a fun way to connect with friends, but that’s certainly not the only option.
In our ebook, Chris and I spell out lots of games and activities children can do with friends while being physically apart. These range from doing the same activity separately, such as building with Legos or making friendship bracelets, to playing games such as battleship, to competing in a remote scavenger hunt. Doing something new and fun can help bridge the gap caused by social distancing and bring energy and excitement into interactions with friends.
2. Go low-tech
Not all children have access to video chat whenever they want, and many are just fed up with Zoom calls. Consider helping your child create a surprise for a friend that can be sent by mail or dropped off at the friend’s house. Writing a letter, drawing a picture, sending a secret message written in code, or dropping off baked goods or some seeds to grow could be ways to brighten a friend’s day and make your child feel good, too.
3. Broaden the social reach
Interacting with new people adds spice and variety to social lives. Your child may be focusing mainly on just a few friends and feeling down when those friends aren’t available for an online get-together, or they’re spending time with other kids.
Help your child think of additional kids to try to contact. Going through old photos together from school, camps, or activities might help jog your child’s memory about possibilities. The bar is very low: Your child doesn’t have to be soulmates with someone to reach out. If they’ve had fun together once, that’s good enough. If they haven’t been in touch for a while, that’s absolutely fine. Chances are the other kid is feeling bored and lonely and would be grateful for the contact.
4. Consider some form of in-person get-together
Some families are looking for ways to allow children to get together in person while still maintaining social distance. Whether or not that option makes sense depends on each family’s location and circumstances. Most children won’t be able to maintain social distance in person without some degree of adult supervision.
Outdoor activities, such as biking, fishing, kayaking, or an epic squirt gun battle, are safer than indoor activities. Physical reminders such as pool noodles, two parallel ropes on the ground to mark a 6-foot gap, or separate kiddie pools placed 6 feet apart can help kids remember to maintain an appropriate distance.
Wearing masks provides an extra layer of protection for less active situations, especially in situations where kids might not always be perfectly distant, such as taking a walk together.
Some families are creating quarantine “pods” with a limited number of people outside the immediate family, where kids don’t have to be socially distant with other children within the pod. This can provide a welcome bit of social normalcy, but it requires honest and respectful conversations among the adults to ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding virus precautions plus a commitment not to extend connections beyond the agreed-upon pod.
5. Offer comfort and fun at home
If getting together with friends in person is simply not possible in your situation, explain why to your child. Acknowledge your child’s feelings. You could say, “You really miss seeing your friends!” or “It’s hard that the pandemic is dragging on so long!” Be careful not to spoil your empathic comment by adding a “but …” Just knowing you understand can help your child feel comforted.
You may not be able to fix the situation, but you can offer a hug and try to plan some fun activities for just you and your child or with the whole family. Silliness can be a good antidote to feeling blue. Consider holding a contest (outside) where all family members have to take a mouthful of water then, without touching anyone, try to make each other laugh.
Other options for family fun include playing board games, doing a project together, such as gardening, cooking, crafts, or home improvement, or learning a new skill such as tap dancing, body juggling, or knitting. Choose activities that both you and your child will genuinely enjoy. If your kid is better at it than you are, that’s a plus.
The coronavirus pandemic won’t last forever, but it’s definitely a marathon rather than a sprint. While we’re waiting for things to improve, we need to find ways to help lonely children feel connected.
To help ease the stress of social distancing, my co-author, Christine McLaughlin, and I recently wrote an ebook for kids called, Growing Friendships During the Coronavirus Pandemic (for ages 6-12). It’s funny, practical, and free. You can get a copy for a child you love at CoronavirusFriendship.com.