Hey, remember when kids used to play with each other? Like, in person?
I can’t tell you whether—or when—to start planning playdates for your kids again. That will depend upon how hard your area has been hit by the pandemic, how committed everyone involved has been to social distancing and whether anyone has underlying medical concerns, such as asthma or a compromised immune system. But if you and another family decide it’s time to start reintroducing in-person playdates, there are some things you can do to make it safer for the kids and your families.
Plan some “stay-away games”
Maybe it goes without saying, but “tag” is not a good game to play right now. Obviously, the kids are going to want to play together—this is the point, after all—but you should also try to keep them at least the recommended 1.5 metres. The best way to do that is to come armed with some “stay-away” game ideas before the playdate even begins.
Set up an obstacle course and let them take turns running through it and cheering each other on. Fill up water balloons, give some to each child and set up targets for them to aim at. Ride bicycles, tricycles or scooters around the neighbourhood. Have a socially distanced hula hoop contest—if they can bring their own hoop, great; if not, sanitise it before you pass it to the next child. If you come armed with a fun plan that can be pulled off while distanced, it’ll make it easier for the kids to resist their impulse to hang all over each other.
Although the coronavirus can still be transmitted outdoors, it’s more likely to be spread indoors where there are so many surfaces to be potentially contaminated and it becomes more challenging to maintain a social distance of at least six feet. So choose a nice sunny day to play outside—or a rainy day to get together to splash in some puddles.
Avoid meals and snacks
Every good playdate involves a snack break, at least in my experience. Or it used to. For now, though, it’s best to keep the nibbling to the privacy of your own home. You don’t want all the sharing and face-touching that eating invites, so plan your playdate for a time when the kids are not likely to become famished, such as right after lunch.
If you absolutely must break for a snack, implement a BYOS (Bring Your Own Snack) policy so there’s no exchange of food.
Keep it short
It’s hard, very hard, for little kids to not be all over each other. Especially since they’ve been denied physical contact with their friends for months, they’re going to want to hug, wrestle, high-five, pull on each other, bounce off each other, tag each other “it,” and on and on. The longer they’re together, the more tempting this becomes.
So at least for the first few playdates, until they’ve had a chance to become accustomed to the new playdate protocol, keep the playdates short and sweet. Half an hour to an hour is probably the most you want to push it for now.
Remind them why we’re staying distanced
Ken Ginsburg, a paediatrician specialising in adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, tells the Washington Post that it’s important to not just try to control our kids’ actions, but to explain to them why it’s important to take these precautions:
Ginsburg recommends you focus on safety and protecting other people, which makes children feel cared about. “If parents make it about control, it could backfire, and adolescents will think that these are efforts to stifle their independence or control them, which can trigger them to rebel. When we remind them that their actions protect other people, they feel important and recognise that their sacrifice has value.”
Kids are inherent “helpers” and knowing that they have the chance to have fun with their friends and keep them safe will make the whole process a little easier.