While the CDC continues to recommend all in-person playdates be put on hold due to the threat of COVID-19, there are definitely families across the country that have decided to allow their children to meet up and play with others. Explaining to your girl that you’re not going to let her join in the fun—especially if she’s watching neighborhood kids play right outside her window—can be both challenging and heartbreaking.
Developmental psychologist Dr. Cyndy Karras has some tips to make navigating this difficult situation a little easier.
Acknowledge Her Frustration
Missing out on fun playdates and adventures with her friends—especially after months cooped up inside—is hard on your child. Nothing you can do or say will make that go away, but Dr. Karras has a simple tip for getting through those moments when your girl complains: listen to her and acknowledge her feelings. “You might say something like, ‘I hear you. It’s really hard to see or hear about others having fun together when you can’t be a part of it. Let’s make a list of things we can do together as a family and with friends without needing to meet up,’” suggests Dr. Karras. Giving her ownership over coming up with activities and ideas on how she can connect with others will give her a sense of control and agency.
Don’t Put Down the Neighbors
Nobody needs added conflict and drama in the midst of a global pandemic. “You may not agree with parents who are letting their kids meet up in-person,” says Dr. Karras, “but be mindful of the words you use to discuss how your family’s decision is different from others’.” She suggests explaining that every family has the right to make the decision that feels right for them, but your family is choosing to continue social distancing to keep yourselves and others safe and healthy. “Try to keep the focus on what you and those in your household are doing rather than placing judgment on people your girl knows and likely looks up to.”
Dive into Her World
Obviously she’s not going to have the same experiences playing and doing activities with you as she would with her friends, but being present and taking a more active role in her life whenever possible can help take the sting away from the fun she’s missing out on. Dr. Karras suggests telling your girl you know you’re not her age and you obviously can’t replace her friends, but that you want to do the things she likes doing, whether that’s playing her favorite video game, learning the latest TikTok dances, or building the most elaborate Rube Goldberg machine imaginable. She’ll love being the expert and teaching you about her interests, and you’ll make some incredible family memories in the process, too.
Be Patient and Honest
She’s probably going to feel sad sometimes—but that’s because she’s human and we’re naturally social beings. “Being open, honest, and human really helps kids hear you and relate to you,” says Dr. Karras. “There’s no need to overshare information, but telling her you miss your friends, too, can help her see that her feelings are normal and healthy—and that she’s not the only one feeling left out right now.” Sharing your experience at an age-appropriate level will help her grow in empathy and can spark a discussion about how you can help each other get through this as a team—because that’s what families do best.