With the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting our social lives, children in particular may need a little extra help managing the loneliness that can result. We suggest using the “three C’s” to help your children fill the void.
While it’s smart to maintain limits on screen time, parents may want to adopt special “pandemic rules” to allow their children more connection time.
“It’s important for kids to feel connected and to continue having playtime with friends, even if that time has to be online,” said Kevin Hayes, DO, ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Appleton. “Video calls or online games with peers can help ease the impact of loneliness they may be feeling, especially when cold weather makes outdoor gatherings less feasible.”
Here are some suggestions for maintaining healthy screen time schedules:
- Explain to your children that previous household screen time restrictions are being relaxed to allow specifically for social connectedness with family and friends (seeing and speaking with one another).
- Offer the additional screen time as an incentive for good behavior, and be clear about what constitutes good behavior.
- Let them know what they can and cannot be viewing – keeping them safe online is critical during this time.
- Limit time on social media sites, as exposure to these platforms can actually worsen feelings of isolation.
“In our house my kids get one hour of screen time on weekdays and two hours on weekends,” explained Dr. Hayes. “They can earn up to an extra hour each day by reading – one minute of reading = one minute of screen time. Kids feel empowered when they can “earn” rewards, and in the process, they are also getting additional reading time as they work toward that reward.”
Prioritizing wellness is also an important part of managing screen time. Dr. Hayes recommends looking at how the child is spending their time overall.
Specifically, consider whether or not your child is:
- sleeping enough and eating a somewhat balanced diet
- engaging in some form of exercise every day
- getting some quality time with family
- keeping in touch with friends
- investing in learning and keeping up with homework
If your child is taking the appropriate steps to care for their mental, emotional and behavioral health, then it’s probably okay if your child is getting a little extra screen time.
“Kids may have a tough time expressing how they feel about the sense of isolation they are experiencing, especially if they are missing social events with friends,” said Dr. Hayes. “Parents should take the initiative to ask their kids about their feelings and offer creative ways to cope, such as drawing pictures of friends or planning alternative events.”
Encourage your child to spend more time exploring their interests and learning how to do something new. Playing an instrument, making movies to share with friends and family, reading new books, and exploring science or technology are all great ways for kids to pass the time.
“Having time dedicated to a purpose each day can both channel your child’s energy and help them cope with the isolation that the pandemic has created,” Dr. Hayes said. “It also helps them to develop the emotional tools they’ll need to manage challenges in the future.”
If you’re concerned about your child’s emotional health, please speak with your family doctor or pediatrician. We can help you determine the best course of action.