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I don’t know about you, but after 6 months of not being able to see my friends up close, or to have a meal with my parents or in-laws (even though they live nearby!) I’m feeling a little connection starved. And at the same time, it feels hard to know where to start or what to do when in person isn’t an option. So I reached out to my friend Kerry Byrne of The Long Distance Grandparent and asked her for some tips to stay connected to friends and family during COVID. 

Here are Kerry’s insights:

Connection during the pandemic with anyone outside our household? It’s been hard. Most of us have experienced disruption to regular in-person time with family and friends. This requires getting more intentional about staying connected. We all need connection. It’s vital for not only our mental health but our physical health. Loneliness is an identified health risk.

If we create a habit or practice around connection, it is more likely to happen. Let’s look at some ways we can create a ‘connection practice.’

Take advantage of technology that makes it less stressful (not more!) to stay in touch. 

Marco Polo is a free video walkie-talkie application. The beauty of this app is that it doesn’t require you to be live for the video chat and yet it feels like an ongoing conversation. You send a video message when it works for you and friends or family can respond when it works for them. My mother-in-law loves being able to see videos of her grandchildren – even when the time difference means she is fast asleep while the videos are shared! It’s a great app to stay connected with a group of friends who are at a distance too. 

TouchNote is a fabulous app if you have someone in your life who could use some cheery snail mail. You upload a photo from your phone, type in a short message and TouchNote turns it into a beautiful postcard and sends it for you! This means your sister or dad will get some snail mail and you get to skip the guilt of carrying it around in your purse and forgetting to post it!  Once you are set-up in this application, it takes under 5 minutes to send out a postcard. 

Try to make video chat more fun. Accept that it’s not the best way to connect, but it’s all we have for now.

Most of us are now using video chat for work, for schooling and for staying in touch with family and friends. Let’s face it, we are all feeling like video chatting is a lackluster experience at this stage of the pandemic. We just want to hug each other and argue and laugh around a real table, not a virtual one! 

Try and have some fun on video chats. Laughing together – at and with each other – is a powerful to connect, especially for children. With a little imagination, you can play almost any game on a video chat that you play in person. Easy card games like Hi-Lo or adapting family favourites like charades into something more fun for little ones by requiring everyone to dance the answers! 

Last week, on our weekly cousins and grandparents Zoom chat, we all arrived with wooden spoon puppets and each household took turns sharing their superpower and then using the puppets to tell a story together. Super-easy, engaging and a lot of laughs from everyone. 

The ideas for fun are endless. But doing meaningful things together is also a way to bond and feel connected while distanced. With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, working on a service project with family and friends from a distance connects us while helping others. Get all the cousins together on a virtual chat to write letters for isolated older adults or agree that each household will drop off supplies to a local food kitchen or women’s shelter and then meet-up to talk about it online.  

Put it in your schedule and don’t wait for a ‘free moment’ to connect with friends or family.

We get busy. The days pass. It’s hard to get everyone together for a ZOOM call. This is why it’s important to schedule times to reach out. You can have a standing Tuesday dinner Zoom with your extended family. Or try making a Marco Polo video for someone as part of the bedtime routine.

I hope some of these ideas will result in fun and meaningful moments so you can still create memories – even if they are only virtual for now!  

ABOUT OUR GUEST BLOGGER: 
Kerry Byrne, PhD, is an expert in care, connection and aging. She is the Founder of The Long Distance Grandparent, a social mission business helping grandparents build strong bonds with their grandchildren from a distance. As a mom to 2 boys with grandparents living abroad, Kerry is deeply committed to fostering meaningful connections between grandparents and grandchildren.  You can find more ideas to build bonds from a distance at www.thelongdistancegrandparent.com


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Sarah Rosensweet is a peaceful parenting coach and parenting advice columnist for Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 13, 16, and 19). Sarah teaches parents a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Enjoy your kids again! Find her at sarahrosensweet.com