Health & Well-being

Phone a friend: Helping kids stay connected

Parenting Place Helping Kids Stay Connected

Research has proven that over the course of a person’s lifespan, strong and supportive relationships are the number one predictor of well-being. Feeling connected to others is so valuable that it can help prevent or reduce depression, anxiety and other forms of mental distress. So it makes sense that maintaining those connections during times of crisis and challenge is more important than ever. Rather inconveniently, this current Covid crisis has made social connections pretty tricky in a lot of ways. However, while playdates are not an option during lockdown, there are other things we can do to help our kids to stay connected with their friends.

Work out your child’s needs

Children are different in their thoughts, feelings and needs, depending on their age and personality. The first thing to think about when it comes to supporting your child’s connections is who they are as a person. This can give us insights into what they need socially.

Different ages: For younger children, it’s parents who are the main source of social and emotional support, whereas teenagers are at a stage where the peer group becomes more important than the family group. However, regardless of age, connecting with family and friends is important for all of our kids.

Different personalities: Some kids will miss their friends and want to be in regular contact with them, others will be content not seeing or hearing from friends until school goes back. Some children crave attention, some kids feel alive or energised after hanging out with others, some children are happy in their own company.

Work out how to meet your child’s needs

Social connection is good for everyone. After considering the personalities and stages of your own kids, have a think about how you can make some time and space in the day for your children to connect with others. The key is to create opportunities, but not to insist on them being actioned.

Kids who want connection: Have a chat with your child about how they can stay in touch with their friends. Some children may have their needs met (and will be kept busy) by simply keeping their friends in mind and writing letters or drawing pictures for their friends (to post or deliver when the levels drop). Some will want to connect face to face with their friends on Facetime or Messenger Kids.

Kids who don’t crave connection: If your child is not asking for Facetime calls with their friends, it is still a good idea to give them the opportunity to connect with others. Instead of friends, perhaps they would like to talk to Grandma or Grandad, or a cousin. Some schools will offer online meetings or classroom chats, so encourage your child to attend these but don’t force them if they are not keen (some of us feel awkward in Zoom meetings). Some of your kids’ usual extra-curricular activities, like Scouts, dance classes and youth group, are meeting online – again, encourage but don’t insist on participation in these.

The key is to create opportunities, but not to insist on them being actioned.

Create connection within your family

This is a common theme of our lockdown communications, but it is worth repeating – being available for regular connection with our kids throughout our lockdown days is so very important. Even if you can only spare a few minutes in between your own Zoom calls, those intentional moments of focused attention can work wonders for a child. So prioritise connection, especially as the lockdown fatigue takes hold of many an Auckland family. Clear away the laptops and text books and make some time for board games or card games, family dress-up for dinner, karaoke, dancing or cooking together. Find what works for your family and make lots of great connection memories.

Our teens still need their parents’ company too, so look out for those times when they subtly bring their laptop to the couch or they sit at the kitchen bench with their headphones on. Let your teen know that you welcome their company anytime, but don’t take it personally if they don’t take up your invites to do gardening together or play a hand of Uno.

A special word about teenagers (and technology)

Considering that connection with peers is so important, we can expect that there will be some friction around how our teenagers maintain their social lives. In general, teenagers don’t want to be at home 24/7 at the best of times and now they’re forced to be. So, expect some frustration and even anger about that, especially if they have a peer group that is quite supportive of one another. Allow your teenagers their social time, and of course we’re talking online in the current climate!

It helps to think about the three C’s in terms of a teenager’s technology use. When they can use technology and social media to Connect, Create and Collaborate with their peers, it is a good thing. What we want to look out for and gently avoid is when they just scroll mindlessly…

What lockdown connection has looked like in my own whānau

Another family we know made their own dance video to a song they liked, shared it with us, and challenged us to make our own video within the week. This task created a sense of purpose for my four kids, and gave them a creative project for the week. They used problem solving, communication, negotiation and perseverance and created a cool wee video that I will treasure for years to come! We then challenged another family and enjoyed watching the video they created.

My cousin’s son made a Kahoot quiz and invited family members to join a Zoom call to participate. This then prompted my daughter to create her own Kahoot and we will be sharing it with family members when it is complete.

In Level 3 (contactless delivery!) my kids wrote letters for their friends and walked or cycled around the neighbourhood delivering notes to their letterboxes. They then spent the following days checking our own letterbox 50 million times to see if their friends had reciprocated. They also wrote letters to friends and family overseas that we waited until level 2 to post.

All that to say, there are lots of ways to encourage our kids to stay in touch during lockdown – and with some out-of-the-box thinking, you can come up with ideas that suit individual children. Be it a good-old-fashioned letter in an envelope or a high-tech international Zoom call with the competitive edge of a ‘friendly’ Kahoot, connection can still be embraced in moments when we’re physically distanced.

Katherine Tarr

Katherine Tarr

Katherine is a Child and Family Psychologist with experience working in both the early intervention and education settings. She was part of our Programme Development team where she was responsible for researching and developing training programmes to equip facilitators to deliver our courses to a high standard. Prior to training as a psychologist, Katherine was a high school teacher and an outdoor instructor. She has four primary school aged children and in their spare time the family enjoys having adventures in the outdoors.

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