One of the things our children have missed the most in the last eight months is meeting their friends. It has been a while since they saw their friends in person sans masks, high-fived them, shared snacks, or just enjoyed a casual chat with a buddy walking alongside each other.
Evidently, this isn’t over yet.
There will still be limited physical playdates and socially-restricted celebrations. Visiting each others’ homes to greet, hangout and “chill” through the day, leading into sleepover requests as was usual during the holidays, simply won’t work right now.
These restrictions are beginning to take a toll on many kids, reflecting in their moods and behaviour. We are noticing the signs ranging between withdrawal to hyperactivity.
This week I have decided to go all out and give you some quick fixes: solutions that don’t talk about “reflecting” or “empathy” but those that will actually save you time from having to scratch your head and come up with ideas to keep them engaged.
Organise a “guess who called”: My children love guessing games. For them to receive a call from someone, getting clues, one at a time, and watching them guess who it is on the line, really brings about much cheer. It goes without saying that they don’t get to peek at the name on the cell phone and the caller needs to be in on the clues. When required he or she can whisper/ sing/ laugh/ mimic for children to guess who it could be.
Play ‘5 questions’ in letters: While studying at a boarding school, writing letters was one of the ways I stayed connected with my family through most of my childhood. I am proud to say that we are all incredibly close. I hope this offers some relief to you that even in these times, kids will manage being bonded despite not meeting their friends. There are multifaceted advantages in writing letters, asking questions and receiving responses. You may find that they make some really meaningful communication through this medium, while getting some writing practice.
Make cards to post: Making cards is a common activity for children, but by having them themed around festivals, allowing them to slip in a little surprise like a feather or confetti, addressing the envelope, sending it creatively in a bottle or a jar and have them delivered, may tickle them a bit while learning about alternative ways of communicating. The idea is for them to stay in touch, sustain the bond and learn that relationships can be maintained despite distance and circumstances.
Make a collage with your pals: This is such a fun activity to do within a group of children! Have one child start a collage by painting or decorating one part of the sheet and send it to the next child who adds her/his bit to it and passes it along. Pick a chit to decide the kid who gets to keep it or leave it be with the last one in the relay. Do print a picture of the collage signed by the gang. Pinned up in every child’s room, the collage will serve as a sweet reminder of their collective effort and friendship.
Barter festival necessities: During festivals such as Diwali and Christmas, we use so many items at home. Bartering diyas for rangoli colours, fairy lights for candles, or Christmas ornaments for incense, could just be a fun activity of listing, coordinating and executing the barter for kids. You could follow this up with ‘thank you’ cards or share pictures of how each child used the item they swapped.
Pass the plant: Take turns to nurture a tiny plant. Each child gets to keep it for a week and may decide to share care instructions with the following child. On their pin-up board, the picture with the plant will be a lovely visual reminder for them of nurturing and sharing something with their friends or family.
Courier books to each other: Personally, I am so happy doing this. Opening a parcel with a book, bookmarked with a message or a riddle, a dried flower, a fragrance sprayed in or a cryptic message on a certain page of the book will make the sharing exercise so much more exciting.
Buddy your friend in achieving a goal: Children love the idea of responsibility. To take onus to help support a friend in the form of reminders through calls, letters or post-its, or “virtually” handholding to help achieve their friend’s goal, is not just a bonding exercise but a heavy weight one in learning about taking responsibility and communicating in relationships.
Send a prop: The excitement of opening a mysterious delivery is a fun activity for kids. A fake moustache, a broken hair band, a punctured ball or an apple seed... allow them to be creative and pick a prop to send to a friend. The friend has to then use the prop to make something small from it for utility, a keepsake or as a souvenir.
Secret messages in invisible ink: This is one of my favourite activities. There are several ways of creating invisible ink using lemon juice and water, baking soda and water, milk or simply a white crayon. Allow your friend to figure out what medium you used by trying different techniques like hold against heat, brush with grape or beet juice or watercolor on crayon to not only see the secret message but also decipher what you used to create it. If you give them a word game to play like atlas, acronyms or word jumble, such that the guessing child has to send a secret message back keeping the theme in mind, this game could go on and on.
For some parents this may mean a lot of coordination. Pick what is convenient and twist and bend the to-dos around to suit your schedules. Delegate, give responsibility to children and allow them to make all the silly decisions they want to. Remember to aim for joy and fun during the activities and health and happiness as goals this season.
Shwetambara Sabharwal is a Mumbai based psychologist, psychotherapist and a mother of two.