Artist: Michelle Mildenberg 

I tell my little kids to keep their distance from people; then, I get upset when they don't know how to interact with other children. Thanks to COVID-19, milestones, and normalcy, are constantly called into question, even when it comes to a simple playdate. On social media, worried parents are cautiously asking about kids getting together, and we've all seen how those conversations can quickly escalate into personal and political debates. So, what should we, as parents and caregivers, do in the middle of all this? I went to some experts to get solid tips on how to navigate playdates during a global pandemic. Here's what I learned.

Dr. Ron Elfenbein, Founder, Medical Director, and CEO of FirstCall Medical Center in Gambrills, MD, explains, "The first thing parents should remember is there is no 'offending' during a pandemic. Your safety and that of your family is paramount, above all other concerns." Dr. Elfenbein reminds all parents that there's really no "right approach" to playdate etiquette, rather, "There is only whatever makes you comfortable and happy." And one thing we've all learned during the last year, which Dr. Elfenbein backs up 100%: kids need to be socialized (adults need it too).

So when and if we're ready to get back out there in the playdate world, how do we get something fun on the calendar? Dr. Elfenbein recommends we "bubble up." Find a group of like-minded parents (or even one other family) and make meetup plans with them. Discuss your expectations ahead of time and make sure everyone agrees before you get together.

A recent online poll showed that most parents are more comfortable if playdates are outside and that rings true for my family as well. During the lockdown, outdoor activities were the best way for my family to get some fresh air and a change of scenery. This year, we're planning to stay outside, especially for playdates. We've adopted the popular family motto, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing."

And I'm not alone. "Being able to see friends and family again outdoors has helped our family's morale and has allowed my kids to start socializing again, which is beneficial to their development," says Dr. Stephanie Liu, MD of Life of Dr. Mom. Dr. Liu continues, "For my kids, I explain to them that COVID-19 is a virus that can make people sick, but the tricky thing is that we can't see it."

Spending time with like-minded friends and family definitely has helped my own family feel comfortable. With three little ones and a high-risk family member, I've always erred on the side of caution with an ounce of fun thrown in. With the kids, including during playdates, we sing a handwashing song together that keeps them scrubbing for 20 seconds, and we picked out fun masks in our kids' favorite colors so they'll be excited about wearing them. And, our adults always set a good example. We don't ask the kids to do anything we wouldn't do, and we make sure they see that.

With all that in mind, you may still end up on the opposite side of a pandemic-fueled discussion. Some final advice from Dr. Elfenbein might help: "This whole thing is all about risk mitigation and risk management. Kids need to have playdates, and we should not be afraid of them. Take reasonable and appropriate precautions." As long as we respect the wishes of other parents and do our best to keep everyone safe, our kids will feel safe as well!

—Angelica Kajiwara

Angelica Kajiwara loves hiking, RV travel and delicious food, and she enjoys all of that with three little ones in tow. It’s never boring, that’s for sure. Visit her at: toddlinacrossamerica.com.

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