This might be one of the happiest times of year, but since we’re still battling the worst of the pandemic, the holidays probably look a lot different than past years. Large, indoor social gatherings are still being discouraged, many businesses are closed, and schools across the country remain open only for distance learning. “Mall Santas” sit behind plexiglass barriers or next to a backdrop far away from where children pose for photos. Large Christmas parties are nonexistent. This sense of isolation can have a major impact on our children.
Loneliness can present itself in many ways, depending on the age and personality of your children. For infants and babies, they may become more clingy to caregivers and cautious when confronted with strangers. With lack of a social life, they might cling to stuffed animals, dolls, or pets for companionship. For preschool-aged children, loneliness might appear through imaginative play. Listen as your child plays with her stuffed animals or other toys. Does she mention not seeing friends? Does she come up with an imaginary friend to play with? Does she talk to her toys and pretend like they are playing with her? Young children might also complain of missing important people in their lives: their friends, their grandparents, their cousins, or their teachers and caregivers.
Older children are most likely feeling lonely these days, too. Instead of being vocal about missing friends and loved ones, school-aged children might become quiet and withdrawn. They might immerse themselves in tv, video games, or reading, and refrain from participating in activities that usually make them happy.
Mood changes can often be a clear sign of loneliness as well. Young children might experience sleep changes and experience aches and pains. Older children might change sleeping and eating habits, as well as become more short-tempered, anxious, or rude.
It’s understandable to be lonely during these times. After all, you’re probably feeling lonely too! In the same way that adults can practice self-care during times of loneliness, you can help your children navigate lonely times in a number of ways.1. Prioritize conversation.
If your child is becoming quiet and withdrawn, try to prioritize daily check-ins and heart-to-heart talks. If your child isn’t willing to talk, try buying a journal for them to write down their feelings (for younger children, ask them to draw a picture about how they feel). Normalize your child’s feelings and make sure they know it’s ok to not feel happy all the time. Help them understand that you miss your friends and normal routine, too. Schedule some time in the mornings during breakfast or in the evenings when everyone is sitting around the dinner table to check in and see how everyone is feeling.2. Utilize technology.
Thanks to technology, you can set up virtual playdates with your child’s friends! Many toddler activity centers and preschoolers are offering online classes. Older children can call each other using video calling. If your children are slow to warm up to technology, try planning short, 20-30 minute play dates, and help your child engage in a specific activity with their friends such as a craft, story time, game, or show. Older children can choose from plenty of websites to use to play multiplayer games during video calls!3. Send letters and cards.
It might seem “old school,” but there’s nothing more fun than receiving cards and letters in the mail! Encourage your child to make cards and write letters to friends and loved ones. They can help you go to the post office to understand how the mail system works, so it can be a learning experience, too! For younger children, create fun drawings, finger paintings, or hand or footprint artwork to send to friends and loved ones. Older children can practice writing skills by learning how to properly begin and end a letter. You can ask around in local Facebook groups to see if any other children want a penpal to write to, or you can encourage your children to make cards for other people that might be feeling lonely - such as teachers, nursing home residents, or their friends.4. Create a new routine.
Children thrive on routine, but the pandemic has probably thrown a wrench in your typical activities. Take this time to create a new routine for your kids. Maybe that means starting your day with a family walk, going for an afternoon bike ride, or cooking dinner together as a family in the evenings. You can also schedule safe activities, such as spending time with a family member or friend within your social or school bubble, so your children have something to look forward to.5. Get outdoors.
Spending time in nature has been proven to have wonderful effects on mental health. If your children are feeling down, encourage them to spend some time outside! Pick a new local playground to check out, go on a hike, or take a walk around your neighborhood looking at Christmas lights. You can also create a nature scavenger hunt for your kids, which is a fun way to spend time together outdoors. Even getting outside during a rainstorm and splashing in some puddles can do wonders for your child’s mood!
If your children are feeling lonely these days, try one of these ideas to help them deal with this difficult time. We are all looking forward to returning to “normal” routines as soon as possible, but in the meantime, there are many ways parents can help their children cope with life during a pandemic.
Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Every day is an adventure.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.