Adapting to Social Distancing (or is it Physical Distancing?), by Dr. Lauren Tobing-Puente

In Part 3 of the Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes blog series, I will focus on our adaptation to the concept of “Social Distancing.”  This term, which many of us never heard before March 2020, is so prevalent within our vocabulary, the media, and our mindset in recent months.   This term may have brought about many emotions in us: fear (“What if I can’t buy my necessities if shopping in stores is not safe?”), sadness (“I miss giving people hugs”), or frustration (“What will I do if I can’t see my friends, family, or coworkers?).  However, many of us have adapted to this concept during the past few months.  As we have discussed in the earlier posts in this series, this time of pandemic has shown how we have adapted and (hopefully) allowed us time to promote our self-care and well-being.  My hope is that adapting to distancing has allowed for new ways of interacting and skills that can be used in the future.  For kids, this may mean having more meaningful connections with family members who moved far away; for adults this may mean having new ways of working and “going” to doctors appointments, for example.

Before we go further, we need to ensure that we change our thinking about “social distancing” and consider the more appropriate term, “physical distancing.”  Social distancing implies that we are maintaining distance from our social networks, which is very much the opposite of what is needed during a time of so much stress, anxiety and new routines.  Positive social interactions are excellent coping strategies.  It is crucial to remember that humans are wired for relationships.  Even people who struggle to maintain relationships with others need relationships, despite the factors that make it difficult.

During the past few months, you likely have found yourself, or your child on a Zoom call, a Google Meets or, in our case for our practice, a Doxy.me session once, twice or several times per week.  I am so grateful for these video platforms, while not the same as being in person, it enables us to provide the visual aspect of social interactions.  Many young children are not great at speaking on the phone, but may have already learned how to Facetime with faraway family members prior to this pandemic.  That all said, you may be finding it difficult to maintain virtual social interactions for your children.  This may not be a skill that comes easily for you or your child. 

Here are some tips to help facilitate virtual social interactions for kids:

  • Especially for younger (chronologically or developmentally) children: organize and schedule virtual get-togethers for them.  Younger children are less likely to ask for them and are less able to schedule them independently.  Do this with grandparents, cousins, and other family members, and especially with classmates and other friends.
  • Remember, kids interact more physically than adults do; so, expect that their video chats will be more active, too.  They are less likely to just sit and look at their friends’/family members’ faces.  Here are some ideas for virtual activities:
    • Have them give a tour of their bedroom or their house and reciprocate
    • Hula hoop contest, dribble a basketball contest
    • Scavenger hunt (e.g. Surprise each other with a funny hat; find something that starts with the letter ___)
    • Online interactive games  (e.g, Scribbl.io, Scattegories, Hangman).  You can make some of these up as well.
  • It may help to plan activities for video chats ahead of time so they know ahead of time that they will be doing something of interest or motivating.
  • Remember that just because kids may not be talking or looking at the video screen does not mean they are not invested in the interaction.  They may enjoy having their aunt, for example, watch them draw a picture or build a Lego structure, as the aunt comments and validates their ideas.

Tips for Caregivers

  • Think about how often you socially interacted during the day pre-pandemic  (e.g., a couple of quick pleasantries in the elevator or at the front desk; morning fitness walk with a friend; lunch with a colleague).  The interactions may have been brief and routine, but meaningful.  Be sure to engage at the same frequency or more now.  It may be with different people (family member at home rather than co-worker) or in a different format (text message versus in-person) but will provide you with some drops in the proverbial cup of social interaction.
  • Virtual get-togethers: with friends, family, co-workers, etc.  Again, the visual component to video interactions is quite meaningful.  In our practice, we now hold our weekly group meetings via video, rather than by phone conference.
  • Consider your comfort level for live, in-person visits, as the pandemic eases.  With better weather these days, there are greater opportunities for outdoor activities (which the CDC says are safer).  Meeting at a park or backyard with masks while maintaining distancing guidelines is quite feasible.  With kids, consider their understanding of physical distance rules and use of masks.  

I hope these tips and strategies help to prioritize social relationships during this pandemic.  Although we are likely to be missing many of our routine social events, it is crucial to maintain our, and our children’s, relationships with friends and family.  You may find that relationships deepen and/or grow using these new tools.  And if not, they will hopefully help us cope with the pandemic until it is safe to resume regular activities again.

Stay tuned for our next blog on maximizing the benefits for time at home with your child.

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