How to Help Your Kids Make Friends During the COVID-19 Pandemic

playdate ideas covid

Verywell / Jiaqi Zhou

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our kids in many ways, but perhaps the most profound way is how it has impacted their friendships. Social isolation, mask wearing, social distancing, school and childcare closures have meant that making friends must take completely different forms for our kids.

As parents, this dramatic change has likely worried us. We all want our kids to be happy and we know that childhood is meant to be shared with friends. Socializing is vital for our kids’ well-being. We see how our kids suffer without their friends, and all want to make their childhoods as normal, stress-free, and as happy as possible.

The good news is that the pandemic is not forever, and our children will be able to interact normally with their friends in due time. Until then, there are many ways that we can help our kids make friends, socialize with the friends that they have, and cope with the many changes the pandemic has brought.

The Importance of Friendship During Child Development

No one can deny that friendships are important for our children, and we parents don’t need an expert to tell us that socializing with friends has positive impacts.

There is no one better than another child to engage in free, imaginative play with. No one understands what it’s like to be a child as much as another child. And there is no one better to play games with, chat about common interests, and share feelings with than a good friend.

Research compiled by the University Of Florida  shows that friendships are vital to our kids’ development. For example, kids who don’t form bonds with other children may experience mental health struggles later in life.

Friendships teach important social skills like cooperation, active listening, and problem solving skills. Friendships may even help children succeed in academic environments.

Of course, friendships aren’t always sunshine and rainbows. Children who face bullying, ridicule, emotionally or physically unsafe environments as result of friendships do suffer. But these situations are the exception rather than the rule, and allowing our children to explore different kinds of friendships in as free a manner as possible during childhood is important for their development.

The Challenges of Making Friends During the Pandemic

The pandemic sure has thrown a wrench into our kids’ ability to make friends and socialize with the friends they do have. When schools and childcare centers were shut down abruptly in March, our kids were suddenly cut off from their friends. Older kids may have been more adept at using technology to connect with friends, but many younger kids had never chatted over video with their playmates.

As the months have gone on—and some schools and daycares have opened—our children have had more opportunities to connect with their friends. However, for many children, school is still virtual, hybrid, or has gone in and out of in-person as kids and their teachers have had to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure.

Even children who attend in-person school can’t socialize in the way they used to, as mask wearing and social distancing change the dynamic significantly.

This has meant that children have needed to find new ways to socialize—and while kids are more adaptive than we might expect, these new circumstances haven’t been without challenges.

This is especially true for kids who may be new to a particular location and making friends for the first time, or kids who already experience social anxiety. Children who have special needs as well as very young children may find the new ways of connecting to other children particularly hard to navigate.

That said, there are options out there for our children—even the littlest and most challenged ones —to connect to their peers, and even make brand new friends. All it takes is a little ingenuity and some pre-planning on our parts. And thanks to the miracles of modern technology, it’s actually easier than you might expect to find socializing opportunities for our children.

COVID Safety Measures to Keep in Mind

Perhaps the most surprising and positive thing to come out of the pandemic are the “out of the box” ideas that parents and kids have come up with to socialize safely during the pandemic.

Most people hadn’t even heard of Zoom (or other video conferencing platforms) until 2020, and since then, they have become experts. Parents have also come up with creative ways to safely gather in public. Still, it’s important to remember that any time you gather in person with someone outside your household, you are potentially risking COVID-19 infection.

As the CDC explains, the safest kinds of gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic are:

  • Outside, as outside environments decrease COVID-19 infection risk
  • Gatherings that include mask wearing
  • Gatherings that include social distancing
  • Gatherings where people do not share objects
  • Gatherings with limited numbers of people (check your local area for guidelines about what crowd size is allowed)

In addition, the CDC recommends you check your local COVID-19 infection rate before gathering, in places with high infection rates, in-person gatherings are less safe.

Ideas For Making Friends During the Pandemic

Keeping in mind the safety parameters—virtual gathering being the safest option and outside with masks/distancing being the second safest option—here are a few ideas to get you started when it comes to creating opportunities for your children to socialize and make friends.

Virtual Playdates

It can take a little getting used to for your child—and younger children will likely need a parent nearby to help them—but virtual playdates can be a lot of fun.

Some children are simply happy to chat with their friends via video chat. But other children find it easier to participate in an activity. Keep it simple: set out some paper and crayons for your child to color with their friend. Help your child move the camera around so that they can show off their toys, or even play a game of hide and seek.

In many cases, your child and their friend will come up with the best ideas to make this work: they will probably surprise you with their creativity.

Video Activity Dates

For some children, a more organized activity—often with parenting assistance—makes video chatting more comfortable and enjoyable. Activities like crafting or cooking lend themselves well to video chatting platforms. This takes some preparation.

You will need to decide on an activity, and get instructions and supplies ready for all participants. Older children can probably do the activity with less assistance, but younger children will need your help. 

Live Movie Streaming

Many video platforms, including Netflix, are allowing you to stream videos with others and live chat about what you are watching.

You can also do screen sharing on Zoom: One party logs into a movie streaming service, and then uses the screen sharing option to live stream the video. Pop up the popcorn and enjoy the flick with a bestie.

Live Gaming

Video games get a bad rap. While they definitely can be addictive for kids, and some of their content is concerning at times, they are a wonderful way for kids to socialize, and have been a lifeline for tweens and teens during the pandemic.

Many games allow for live playing, and kids can use audio so that they can connect that way while they play.

Of course, it’s important to make sure your children only connect with their friends, and not strangers. You also want to make sure the content of the video games are appropriate for children.

An Outside Socially Distanced Scavenger Hunt or Other Organized Activity

Playing outside is a great lower risk way for children to connect with their friends during the pandemic. However, to keep things on the safer side, mask wearing and social distancing need to be observed.

That’s why choosing an organized activity, such as a scavenger hunt, exercise or dance activity, or any other childhood favorite, is a good idea.

This way, you can monitor your children and make sure they keep distance and make safe choices while they play.

Good, Old-Fashioned Pen Pals

A more introverted child might decide that letter writing is the way to go. Sending physical mail to one’s friends can be a lot of fun, and may feel like a novel, exciting activity.

Your child can also send arts and crafts or homemade care packages through the mail. Other kids will enjoy emailing their friends, or learning to text (if they don’t do so already).

For kids who are looking to make new friends, having a pen pal is a nice way to dip their toes in and get to know a new person.

Online Enrichment Classes

Online platforms such as Outschool offer opportunities for children to take classes that align with their personal interests. These types of classes are also fantastic opportunities for your child to make new friends, because they are likely to encounter children who have similar hobbies and sensibilities.

Some platforms offer classes that don’t focus on a specific interest necessarily but on more fun, open-ended socializing opportunities.

Nature Walks And Bike Riding

Another low risk outside activity is going on a nature walk and/or riding bikes with a friend. These activities allow for social distancing and can be a lot of fun. Depending on your child’s age, adult supervision is likely necessary.

Either way, you will want to be sure all parties agree on COVID-19 safety measures before getting together.

Family Game Nights

Don’t forget about extended family. Connecting with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents is also important for kids. Again, organized activities such as game night work best here. You can screen share with family members as you play an online video game or other game.

Even board games such as Monopoly and Scrabble have come out with online versions that can be played in groups.

What to Do If Your Child Is Lonely or Depressed

Some children have found these alternative ways of connecting with their friends easier than others. For children who are very young, new to a particular area, have special needs, or who experience social anxiety, video chatting may not feel easy or enjoyable. Don’t pressure your child to do something that they don’t feel comfortable doing.

Keep in mind, too, that some children are fine with simply playing with siblings, playing with parents, or playing alone. Again, the pandemic isn’t forever, and if your child is coping fine without frequent social interactions, that’s okay too. They will learn to adapt when it’s safe to socialize normally again.

However, if your child is very lonely, or exhibiting signs of depression as a result of social isolation, it’s very important to take this seriously, and speak to your child’s pediatrician, school counselor, or a child therapist.

Simply having an open, non-judgmental conversation with your child about their feelings, worries, and fears can be helpful too.

A few days of grumpiness or acting out is normal at times like this. But if your child is showing sustained signs of disturbance or is having trouble functioning on a day-to-day basis, that’s when you should strongly consider getting professional help for your child’s mental health.

Some signs of depression or other mental health struggles that might warrant further attention include:

In younger children:

  • Extreme fussiness
  • Trouble falling asleep and staying asleep
  • Feeding issues or digestive distress
  • Separation anxiety
  • Withdrawing
  • More frequent, inconsolable tantrums
  • Potty training regression or bedwetting

In older children:

  • More frequent conflicts and aggressive behavior
  • Withdrawing from socializing within the family or among friends
  • Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Extreme changes in eating patterns
  • Problem concentrating
  • Problems completing schoolwork
  • Engaging in risky behavior
  • Suicidal ideation

If your child is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

We are living in unprecedented times and it’s natural that we are worried about our children’s ability to make friends and sustain the friendships that they have.

We parents should do whatever we can to facilitate continued social connections for our children, but we should also remember that most children have been able to adapt remarkably to the circumstances and have found ways to socialize in new and satisfying ways.

So—unless our children are exhibiting signs of mental health struggles or other challenges—we can probably relax a little and have faith that our children will come out of this experience unscathed, and perhaps with a newfound appreciation for their beloved friends.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ferrer M, Fugate A. The Importance of Friendship for School-Age Children. Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; 2002.

  2. Considerations for Events and Gatherings. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Updated January 8, 2021.

Additional Reading
  • Considerations for Events and Gatherings. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Updated January 8, 2021.

  • Ferrer M, Fugate A. The Importance of Friendship for School-Age Children. Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; 2002.

  • Mental Health During COVID-19: Signs Your Child May Need More Support. Healthy Children website. Updated October 23, 2020.