I have at least two (or twelve) moments a day where I feel sad or frustrated about the upheaval COVID has had to our lives over the last 12 months. And then I look to my son, who has his best friends across the street. They have barely skipped a beat. Once we started outdoor play with others again, he’s been in Heaven. I’ve never seen him happier. And it’s all thanks to creative styles of play they’ve had to get familiar with.
My pre-teen daughter, on the other hand, doesn’t have her friends within walking distance. She has had a much more challenging year, and when I think about the isolation and lack of control that kids have experienced this year, it’s hard to stomach sometimes. At least you and I can hop in a car and go escape to a Target, a Starbucks, or a friend’s house if we really need something or someone. But these little guys are wholly reliant on us. You and me. I may say my kid can have the tablet from 5-6pm on Tuesdays but if her best friend only gets it from 8-9pm on Thursdays, then how can you connect? How do we help facilitate connection?
Over the last year, I’ve seen my kids come up with some pretty creative ways to connect with their peers, so I’m here to share a few of them today.
- Movie sync up. There are some fancy ways to do this, but I don’t think kids really care. My daughter was big into the Disney Zombies movie last year, and she and her friend would start it at the same time while they propped up their iPads on the couch and watched it together. They’d laugh; they’d pause when someone needed to pee; they’d talk about how they wanted to be cheerleaders now. It was almost like a normal afternoon playdate.
- Messenger Kids/FaceTime. Here’s your 2st century version of “Mom, I want my own phone line.” My new rule for my 10 year old is that she’s allowed to be on her tablet in the evening IF she’s talking to a friend. If it’s just her and an app, then it’s not allowed. I realized my desire to keep her “device-free” wasn’t fair when it was her sole form of connection.
- 90s style outdoor play. Hi. Captain Obvious here, but going to play outside like Nintendo is just becoming popular and internet is dial up has been all the rage with my kids. For my seven year old, that’s been easy because he’s got 3 best friends as direct neighbors, so as soon as we started letting kids play together outside again, that’s all they did all day long. Last summer, he’d literally be outside from 8am until 8pm and I had to drag him inside for meals. They built forts, rode bikes (and built a small ramp with one of the dads), had a million Nerf battles and water balloon fights (um, self-sealing water balloons are a top 5 recent invention), and they ate about a million Icee pops out of our garage fridge.
- Virtual “house” or “family.” A few weeks ago I could hear my daughter in her room playing “family” but she didn’t have any friends over. I slowly peeked my head in and there she was playing Roblox, and she had 2 friends on FaceTime with her. They were all in the same game. One was playing mom. And the other two were sisters. I couldn’t believe how creative they were.
- Zooming virtual school. This version of virtual school is way more fun for them, I think. Now that these kids have mastered the art of Zooming and creating backgrounds, I find my daughter creating her own Zoom calls with friends, and they set up virtual backgrounds to pretend they are in a classroom or their bedroom, etc. Similar to how they were playing house in Roblox, they were creating their own pretend worlds through the use of a background.
If your kids are already doing these things, great! Keep it up! Let them explore new, creative ways of play.
Hopefully you found at least one or two new things to encourage your kids to build connection with peers when the world is a bit upside down. I think they’re going to be coming out of this pandemic with incredible life skills, and hopefully some new ways of thinking too.