An elderly couple snuggles on the couch watching a tablet. There is a loud speech bubble coming from the tablet.

Staying Connected to Kids When You Can't See Them In Person

Not everyone in the RheumatoidArthritis.net community has children of their own at home, but I know there are many who have grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or who act as godparents or special friends to important children in their lives. These relationships are important - both to the child and to the adult! But during this time of social distancing, it may seem difficult to stay connected to kids that you aren't able to see in person.

Social distancing and isolation

My husband and I are currently at home in isolation with our three kids, because we want to keep our family safe and do everything we can to help flatten the curve. My mom lives nearby, but right now she is focused on helping my sister take care of my one-year-old niece while my brother-in-law works extra shifts as a nurse. (Thank you to all the nurses and healthcare providers out there who are working so hard right now!) While we think it's the best decision to stay isolated from one another for the time being, this has been difficult for my kids - they are used to having Granny around as part of their daily life.

Tips for staying connected with kids during isolation

I know my family is not the only one experiencing painful separations from people they love, so I wanted to offer some ideas for staying connected to kids even when you can't see them in person. (While experts seem to be saying that the coronavirus can't travel through mail, I'm going to stick to offering suggestions for connecting virtually to be on the safe side!)

Video chatting platforms

Depending on the technology available to you and the kids, there are a lot of different platforms that you can use to video chat. Our family typically uses FaceTime, but other free options include WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Facebook Messenger. There's also Messenger Kids, a version of Facebook Messenger specifically for kids where they can chat with authorized people on Facebook as controlled by their parent's Facebook account.

My kids have particularly loved chatting to their Granny using this app because there are all kinds of silly filters that make them all laugh. Some of these video chat platforms can also accommodate group chats - so family members and friends in multiple places could all chat at the same time. For example, my kindergartner met with his whole class in a Google Hangout the other day.

Ideas for video chatting with kids

Kids who miss you will really love getting to see you in a live video, but to be honest just "chatting" with each other will only get you so far. You can check in on each other's lives and see what each person is up to, but when we're all stuck at home there isn't necessarily much to report! That's part of why my kids love to use the silly filter to give Granny a mustache while they chat.

But if you aren't using an app with filters - or if that entertainment has already run its course - here are some other ideas for keeping kids' attention on a video chat. Not only will these give you a chance to nurture your relationship with the kid, but you can also give their overwhelmed parents a much-needed break!

  • Make silly faces - have a contest to see who can make it the longest without laughing
  • Read a picture book to the kid - show the pictures, use funny voices, ask questions about what is happening in the story
  • Read a chapter book to the kid - set a time to read a single chapter each day so kids can look forward to it
  • Have the kid read a book to you - bonus reading practice that doesn't feel like school
  • Play some games together - charades, Simon says, red light green light, etc.
  • Sing a song together - take turns singing your favorite songs, learn a new song, try singing in a round
  • Offer to be an audience for the kid to put on a play or musical performance
  • Tell jokes - knock-knock jokes, riddles, see who can tell the best "Dad Joke"
  • Share a talent that you have - play an instrument, teach them how to draw, share things that you like to do

Text messages and emails

During this time of isolation at home, I've been letting my kids use apps on their iPads to text with their grandparents - and even a few of their own friends too. Writing to each other is a good way to check-in that doesn't require you both to be available at the same time.

Texting can make it easier to check in more often, as you can send a quick text whenever you have a free moment. It's also great reading, writing, and typing practice for the kids to reply!

Play multiplayer games

Depending on the technology that you have access to, there are also a number of virtual multiplayer games you could play with kids. For example, "Draw Something" is like a virtual Pictionary and "Words With Friends" is like Scrabble. See if you can find a family-friendly multiplayer app that your special kid would want to play with you. This isn't a topic I've looked into in great detail, since my own kids are still pretty young, but I think this could be a particularly good way to connect with older kids and teenagers. I mean, I still enjoy doing some of these games with my own parents!

Find activities for kids to do

As a parent at home with three small kids, I can tell you that it is a lot of work to keep them entertained through each day, especially if I want them to spend some time away from screens. Most kids are also being home-schooled right now, and while their real school may be providing some distance learning resources it can still be a lot for the parents to organize. All of this is doubly true in families where parents are also trying to work from home.

One more idea for staying connected with your special kid - and hopefully helping the parent as well - is to find activities for the kids to do. There are plenty of free printable activities online, so you could choose one you think your kid would particularly like and ask their parent to print it for them. (Just try to make sure parents see these activity suggestions as a help rather than an added burden!)

If you'd really like to make your kid feel special, there are a number of options online where you can personalize activities to make them extra fun. For example, the Discovery Education website has an online Puzzlemaker that you can personalize for free. You can make a word search, crossword, or word scramble with words that are special to your relationship.

Remind kids that isolation isn't forever

However you decide to stay connected to the important kids in your life, be sure to remind them that this isn't going to last forever. If it's helpful, maybe you can talk about some of the fun things you will do when it's safe to be together again. The important thing is to make sure the kids know you love them, even if you aren't able to see them in person right now.

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