When the pandemic first started at the beginning of 2020, most families welcomed the opportunity to spend time at home. As the year progressed, children began to realize that staying home also meant not seeing their friends, and sadly, not seeing their extended family either. No visits from grandparents or cousins, no one coming for play dates, no extra-curricular activities, and nowhere to go to see their friends and have fun either. This left many children longing for social interaction.

I noticed that when more children began attending our schools this September, they were so happy to see their friends and finally be able to play with children their own age! But not all children have had that opportunity yet, and if your family is living in Canada like mine, you are probably preparing for a holiday without your whole family around to celebrate it with. I had made plans (months ago) to have my family over at Christmas (more than twenty of us) and now no one can come, especially not my 93-year-old grandmother!

It may still be a while before we can see our friends and family in person again, but here are 6 ways to help your child connect to loved ones during the pandemic:

1. Make Video Playdates via WhatsApp
Even my grandma learned to use WhatsApp during the pandemic, which allowed her to stay close to her sister and to all of us. The app is free (download here) and you can use it to phone, video, and text. My whole family has a group chat where we keep in touch every day and share our lives through texts and photos.  When it comes to using your phone or tablet, your child has much better skills than my grandmother, so talk to your child about who they would like to talk to and make virtual playdates! This works at any age! My son plays chess with his girlfriend using facetime, and my daughter (bonus daughter) facetimes with her best friend for hours each day! They stay on the phone while doing homework, even if they don’t talk – just to be close. My youngest son also has gaming dates with his friend who has been in Poland since the pandemic, and chats with her for hours while they play. My youngest (bonus) daughter makes dance videos (yes, on Tik Tok) that she shares with her friends every day, and they learn new dances from each-other, as well as from all kinds of other internet sensations. This provides her with an opportunity to exercise as well as to stay connected. My children are older, and needed no help figuring out how to stay close to their loved ones – both friends and family. If your child is young, you may have to introduce them to new ways of staying close. Encourage them to call their cousins, or their classmates, and even do an activity together (for example, you could have a tea party, bake cookies together, or even make snowpals out of playdough), each in their own homes! Don’t underestimate your child’s need for social interaction, even at a young age. My son found one of his best friends at age one, at his CEFA Early Learning school, and they are close friends to this day, 20 years later. Back then, they were inseparable, and had sleep-overs every week, even though they spent all day together at school for four years!

2. Throw a Zoom Party!
By now, if you have had to work from home, you are probably very familiar with Zoom, which is another free app (download here). Why not organize a virtual party for your child? Invite a few friends to log in at the same time. Let the families know the theme of the party ahead of time (if you have one) so they can prepare (or you could just make it a friends get-together without a specific activity – your child would like it just as much). Here are some ideas you could try:

  • A hot chocolate decorating party (each family would get whipped cream, marshmallows, sprinkles, and a cup of hot chocolate for each child)
  • A pajama party – all you need to do I show up in your pajamas
  • A dance party – choose your child’s favorite songs and invite everyone to dance in their own living rooms!
  • A gingerbread house decorating party – all you need is a gingerbread house decorating kit.
  • A cookie decorating party – get some plain cookies and all the icing and sprinkles you can find!
  • A games night – agree on the game and have everyone play!

3. Mail Holiday Cards
In order to save some trees, I have been sending my holiday cards by e-mail for years now. This year, why not buy or make holiday cards with your child, write a message in each one for the people you love (or a drawing) and teach your child how to address each card and mail them! You could walk together to the mailbox to post them! Also ask some friends and family members to write back to your child so they have “snail mail” to look forward to! If the experience is great, why not keep it going by writing letters this way during the pandemic? It is an excellent writing activity! If your child can’t write, they can draw their message and they can tell you what they would like to write, and you can write a few words below their drawing.

4. Have the Grandparents Sing your Baby to Sleep
My sister had a baby during the pandemic, and all of us are desperate to spend time with her, which we can’t. What she does sometimes is call my mom when the baby is ready to sleep and have her sing the baby to sleep – such a nice thing for the baby and for my mom!

5. Invite a Friend for “Dinner”
Arrange with another family to all have dinner at the same time and place the tablet at one end of the table so they virtually join the whole family for dinner. This is perfect for family dinners! If not, then make a special dinner for your child and have them invite a friend to eat together. Your child can eat dinner while watching their friend on the screen have dinner too, and chat.

6. Read a Book with a Friend
Invite another parent to have story time together once a week (or as often as you like!) and take turns reading a story to your child and their friend. Once you read a story (your child can choose which one) and once the other parent reads a story (and your child’s friend can choose which one).
If you what, you can also do that with an aunt or uncle, or a grandparent, and have them read a story to your child. They can even read a longer book, just ten minutes each night. Your child will look forward to the call each night and maintain a close relationship with their family.

Young children crave social interaction just as much as adults do – sometimes more. Try these few ideas and see which ones your child likes best, then do them as often as you want, varying the friends and family. Your child will be so excited to try these with everyone.

I’d love to hear of ways that you found for your child to stay close to friends and family during the quarantine. Please share with me below in the comments!