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How to help children keep up social connections during coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

Children should maintain social connections while distancing

DETROIT – Even with coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions lifting in Michigan, most of our everyday life has to be conducted from a distance. That includes children’s social interactions.

By nature, children are social. They usually love being with their friends and classmates, so it’s a challenge to help them be social while everyone is social distancing.

In the past, parents have tried to think of ways to get children away from their devices. But now experts say they should embrace the technology.

“People need to see each other and to feel each other’s presence,” Dr. Donna Rockwell said. “It doesn’t have to be in the same spot. As long as we’re connecting and we can see each other, our smiles can connect. Our hearts can connect. We’re going to get off of that Skype call and feel better than we did before. We’re going to have a sense of wellbeing because we’ve connected.”

Rockwell said parents need to get creating to figure out how to help their young ones stay connected.

“We need to help cultivate that for our children when they’re not at school,” Rockwell said. “So to FaceTime with appropriate lengths of being on the phone, to maybe draw a picture to show your friend the next time you’re on Skype together, to call one another on the telephone so that there’s actually voice-to-voice contact. It’s just really important that we keep the social connection current.”

Social distancing can be especially hard on children and teenagers who miss their friends.

“We need to let them know that this is a period of time that we’re going through together and to reach out to grandma, reach out to grandpa, reach out to aunts and uncles and friends and try to stay connected,” Rockwell said.

If your children are older, encourage them to connect with their friends online or on the phone.

“One of the main reasons our children get so upset around what they’re missing is we keep telling them how terrible it is of what they’re missing, and yes, of course it is, but we need to reframe it for our children because they do now have the mental capacity yet to reframe these things for themselves, to have a perspective that’s appropriate for the moment,” Rockwell said.

For younger children, plan a surprise Zoom or even a virtual playdate using FaceTime.

“Forget about how it used to be and think about how it is now and how can I make this the richest experience for my child?” Rockwell said. “How can I make them feel connected to their friends, to their grandparents, to aunts and uncles? It’s so important and valuable. Once we get off that Zoom call, the Skype call, the FateTime, we do feel happier. Our physiology experiences greater firing of neurons -- the part of our head that experiences pleasures is stimulated. So it’s so important that we keep these connections up.”

Rockwell said spend some time talking to your children about what they really need when it comes to their friends and come up with a plan that works specifically for your family.

“There’s a tendency to withdraw, to go into our cave and to just sort of wait for the disaster to be over and then we’ll come out,” Rockwell said. “But we need to come out now and figure out how to tolerate the anxiety around the time we’re living through and connect to other people. If we can do that, we can go through this period with resilience, with a feeling of inner strength, come out of it more in love with ourselves, actually, and life itself, and have a greater appreciation for pretty much everything.”

These aren’t easy times, especially for children, but Rockwell said the more connected they stay to friends and family members, the better they’ll feel.


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