Help Kids Cope With Loneliness During COVID-19

ThedaCare Pediatrician Recommends Staying Connected with Friends and Family

November 6, 2020

APPLETON, Wis. – With the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting our usual social lives, children in particular may need a little extra help managing the loneliness that can result.

While it’s always smart to maintain limits on screen time, parents may want to adopt special “pandemic rules” to allow their children more connection time, said Kevin Hayes, DO, ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Appleton.

“It’s important for kids to feel connected and to continue to have playtime with friends, even if that time has to be online,” said Dr. Hayes. “Video calls or online games with their peers can help ease the impact of loneliness they may be feeling. We should try to maintain screen time schedules to manage those hours in a healthy way.”

Here are some suggestions to manage screen time:

  • For fun and entertainment, kids will need some screen time. Letting your kids know that you understand their needs is a simple way to reduce stress for everyone.
  • Offer additional screen time as a bonus. Try using extra screen time as an incentive for good behavior. If you go this route, be sure to let your child know exactly what is necessary to earn the extra time.
  • Let them also know what they can and cannot be viewing – keeping them safe online is critical during this time.
  • Try not to limit time when children are using screen time for social connectedness. Take advantage of technology to stay connected with friends and family, even if doing so means your child spends a little more time on screens than you typically allow.

Dr. Hayes notes that if parents are allowing extra screen time for social connections, the screen time should be used to connect with friends and family through speaking and seeing one another, and not used for social media, or spending additional time on those sites.

“Social media time can actually can make things worse for a variety of reasons,” said Dr. Hayes. “So the time on social media sites should still be limited.”

Prioritizing wellness is also an important part of managing screen time. Dr. Hayes recommends looking at how the child is spending their time overall.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my child sleeping enough and eating a somewhat balanced diet?
  • Are they getting some form of exercise every day?
  • Are they getting some quality time with family?
  • Do they use some screen time to keep in touch with friends?
  • Are they invested in schoolwork and keeping up with homework?
  • If you can answer yes to most of those questions, then it’s probably okay if your child is getting some extra screen time these days.

“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 to work toward that reward.”

Some small outdoor gatherings, such as a picnic in a park or outdoor party in which attendees are maintaining distance rules or wearing masks, can help, but cold weather has arrived and makes this a less-feasible option.

“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 playing an instrument, making movies to share with friends and family, reading favorite stories, exploring science or technology or anything they show an interest in.

“Having time dedicated to a purpose each day can both channel your child’s energy and help them to 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.”