Ask Dr. Paul: How to stay connected during the pandemic

Although COVID-19 has changed the way we interact with others, there are ways to keep from feeling isolated.

Social distancing and stay-home orders can make it easy to feel disconnected from the people most important to us. Staying connected with loved ones is critical to our well-being, whether you’re a social butterfly or an introvert.

Although the pandemic has changed the way we interact and connect with others, there are proactive steps we can take to keep from feeling isolated.

Q: I’m feeling really disconnected from my family. What can I do to stay connected?

A: Last weekend my daughters and grandchildren held a video dance party. My son-in-law in New York played the guitar, while my granddaughter in California picked the songs. We all danced and sang together — spread out across the country but able to be together.

I have organized an email chain with all my family to share news. I also organized a video chat last week with 21 members of my family — siblings, nephews, nieces, cousins and children. Seeing my family brought tears of joy to my eyes.

Take some time every day to talk on the phone or video chat with friends and family. Let’s use the blessings of technology to connect. While there may be some apprehension to appear on video or set up a video call service, it’s important to try to embrace technology to stay connected during these times.

Like many of us, I have taken a daily walk, rain or shine. Stuck at home, I must get outside. I do feel a little anti-social while I weave in and out of others on the path — keeping to the 6-feet apart rule. But when I do pass someone, I smile and say hello. It’s important for us to be close, even when we must be far.

If you can’t make it outside, reading an inspirational book or doing simple at-home exercises are healthy options for our bodies and minds.

Q: My 5-year-old son wants to watch TV all the time. I try to keep him entertained, but it’s not working. What can I do?

A: Many kids don’t know how to keep themselves busy and engaged without the benefit of a screen. To some degree, it’s the blessing and the curse of the 21st century.

We are all struggling with more time than ever at home. Kids and adults miss the structure that daycare, school and work provide. It’s natural to gravitate toward familiar territory — screens. Parents feeling fried and frazzled, so they give in to their kids’ insistence on screen time.

Create a daily schedule on a big sheet of paper or white board. Discuss it with your kids the night before. It can outline what time to wake up, eat breakfast, do schoolwork, exercise and enjoy screen time.

Try to stick to the schedule and don’t get nickeled-and-dimed into more screen time. You know your child’s rhythms — try to craft a schedule that’s in harmony with their energy and attention span. Nagging doesn’t always work.

A blessing of 21st century are internet search engines. Search for “Creative ways of keeping your kids busy during COVID-19” and you will come up with scores of websites that give you great ideas. In your daily schedule, set limits for screen time and stick to them. Your kids will get the idea.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog. Do you have a behavioral-health question related to COVID-19? Sending your questions to askdrpaul@everettclinic.com.

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