All of a sudden we find ourselves living in an unprecedented era where the whole world is facing a novel virus, and many of us are turning to important protocols like extreme distancing.
With factors such as blended families, high-risk work environments, or particularly vulnerable people, figuring out the best plan for how to minimize physical social contact may involve the coordination of multiple households and some difficult decisions, particularly if you’re co-parenting after separation. If you find yourself in a circumstance where your child is in isolation in one home, you may be parenting from a distance. As we can all understand as parents, sometimes decisions that are right aren’t easy.
There are some important plans to make if you find yourself separated from your child during this pandemic, which will help minimize the stress your child may feel about this change, and which will help you stay connected at a distance.
First, you need to talk with your child about what will be different so that they feel in the loop, and know what to expect. Being upfront about this can be a big relief to kids, and how you go about it will depend on their age. If you’re feeling uncertain about how to have this conversation in a way that protects them from unnecessary anxiety, this is a great time to reach out for a conversation with a professional and create a plan together.
Next, you need to figure out exactly what comes next. If you’re apart for an extended period, what can you do to create meaningful connection? Depending on the individual child, these suggestions will vary, but I hope that the following list will serve as a jumping off point to get your ideas flowing. Most of these suggestions should work for children age 5 and over.
Play a board game over video!
Perhaps there are already duplicate versions of some games in both of the child’s homes, but if not, this is the perfect use for online retailers. You can buy two copies of a game, get one delivered to your house and the other to your child, and then you can play them together. The following are some games that play well over video:
- Guess Who?
- Wits and Wagers
- Say Anything
- Just One
- Uno Dare
Play interactive games over video!
Just sitting and talking can sometimes work for kids, but chances are that the quality of your video visits will be higher if you have something to do. Here are some interactive games to try:
- Charades (see this website for heaps of ideas for kid-friendly charades https://kidactivities.net/charades-ideas-for-kids/)
- Play Mad Libs (there are countless resources online, and here’s a kid-friendly version with lots of downloadable pages https://www.squiglysplayhouse.com/WritingCorner/StoryBuilder/)
- You can also make up silly stories together (or scary stories, or dream holiday stories) and just enjoy them while you tell them, or write them down to enjoy again another time.
Other video visit ideas –
Sometimes just sharing an experience has a lot of meaning, and having something to do while you’re together-not-together can offer a taste of the downtime you’ll be missing with each other.
- Check out https://www.netflixparty.com/ for a chrome extension that allows you to sync your viewing. Each of you can sit down with a bowl of popcorn and watch a movie together, then chat about your favourite parts.
- Grab a favourite childhood novel (The Hobbit? Chronicles of Narnia? Harry Potter?) and read it chapter by chapter until you’ve enjoyed a whole novel together. This can be a treasured activity for both of you, and you can add another special layer by planning for your kiddo to sit down with a mug of hot chocolate to enjoy during your reading time.
- A childhood classic is sculpting with clay or playdough. (It’s also a great regulator for the nervous system!) The two of you can sit down together over video and sculpt while you talk. You could play guess-the-sculpture, work on a theme together, or just enjoy the art at the same time. This could also provide an activity for your child ahead of time, where they could try making playdough from scratch at home! https://theimaginationtree.com/best-ever-no-cook-play-dough-recipe/
- Have a special skill? Teach your child over video! Knitting, sketching, making popsicle stick castles, or whittling wood (if age appropriate) are just a few examples. Maybe the supplies are already available in the child’s home, maybe your co-parent could get ahold of them, or maybe any necessary supplies could be a fun care package that arrives in the mail.
- Schedule video visits where you share a meal together and be nourished in more ways than one. It doesn’t have to be the same food, but sitting down together via video gives you that chance to share something you’re used to doing together when you’re in the same place.
Other ways to connect –
Start a tradition of telling each other new jokes, and send lots of photos and little video clips.
The bottom line is all about keeping your child at the centre. Perhaps you’re accustomed to co-parenting pretty separately, and if your child is young and still relies on their parent to facilitate communication with the other, you and your co-parent will need to adjust to having more contact. Bigger kids may be more able to coordinate things on their own, but it’s still critically important that both parents are warm and encouraging about the child’s need and desire to get lots of connection time with a parent that they aren’t seeing in person. What’s important is that your child gets plenty of quality time, connection, and gets plenty of evidence that they’re on your mind, even if they’re not in your house for a while.
These ideas can work well at any time if a parent is travelling, or for grandparents and other family members who may be cut off from one another right now.
We’re reinventing a number of things about how we live our lives, and my hope for you is that when this has passed, you and your child will have fond memories to look back on of how you stayed apart, together.
If you’re looking for some resources to help you talk with your children about coronavirus generally, check out this link, and don’t forget that mental health professionals everywhere are still working via video and phone to support individuals and families during this time.