How to have a safe playdate for kids
Socialization is very important for a child’s development, so living through a pandemic and the quarantine has been challenging for families. After three months of near lockdown, a lot of children may be anxious to get together and play with friends. Parents who are weary of homeschooling feel the same. But, with COVID-19 still circulating, is it safe?
There are safe ways to begin this part of reopening, said Pediatrician Kenneth Colmer, MD, of Bass River Pediatric Associates, who said he has been getting calls from parents on the subject.
“It’s always good to err on the side of caution,” he said. “That’s the way I operate in general – it’s always better to overdo it than underdo it. On the other hand, we can’t just stay home endlessly. We’ve made it this far and things are starting to flatten out, so it’s a good time to try to open up a little bit.”
Dr. Colmer recommends starting slowly. We were not careful for all these months just to blow it all now, he said. His first suggestion is to keep all social interaction outdoors for the near future. For example, cousins or best friends who are missing each other can get together for an outdoor gathering in the back yard. The risk of transmitting the virus is much lower outside and keeping the group size small also reduces risks.
Even outdoors, Dr. Colmer thinks masks are a good idea for kids, if they are willing to wear them. Frequent handwashing or using hand sanitizer is also a precaution parents and children should take.
At this point, indoor play dates or sleepovers are not advised, he said. Pools should be safe if the kids stay six feet apart, but the ocean beaches are even better because it’s easier to maintain a distance.
The beaches also offer a great place to play contactless games like scoop style ball games where the ball is tossed from scoop to scoop instead of hand to hand. Bikes rides are another good way for children to safely socialize. Outdoor picnics where each family brings their own food, drinks and utensils are also safe.
“It’s hard to know where to draw the line, but we’ve got to gradually ease up a little bit,” Dr. Colmer said. “I think parents can gradually expand, like the governor is gradually expanding the state. Parents can have two or three kids over to play outside or ride bikes and then a month from now, if things stay safe, you could have a few more kids over or play inside.”
Setting Boundaries and Assessing Risk
Now that caution fatigue is setting in, some people are deciding they don’t want to wear masks or take other precautions. Since there are so many different levels of comfort about what is safe, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with a parent of the other child before the kids get together. Then choose get-togethers with families who have the same risk aversion and safety practices that your family observes, Dr. Colmer said.
It may make for awkward conversations, but there are ways to keep your family safe while not shaming others who are making different choices. For example, you can always blame the grandparents.
“If other parents have a different thought process than you, you can say, ‘I’m am really concerned about my parents who are high risk, so I think we will not have the children get together at this time,’” Dr. Colmer said.
Once a playdate is set up, make sure the children know the rules and limitations. They’ve been living with this for a few months now, so most children do understand and are willing to comply, especially if their parents model the behavior they expect from their children.
Even teenagers, who are at a developmental stage where they are seeking more independence, have been doing a great job, in Dr. Colmer’s experience.
“The teenagers I’ve been seeing here have been very good,” he said. “They’ve been wearing their masks and staying home and doing the best they can with online learning.”
One place that is very safe to visit is the child’s pediatrician’s office where every precautions are in place to minimize risk. Some appointments, like those with teenagers or older children, can occur through telemedicine. But smaller children, and babies especially, need in-person visits for a very important reason.
“We’re trying to get the young kids in to keep their vaccinations on schedule and not have them fall behind,” Dr. Colmer said.