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How To Have A Zoom Playdate That Doesn't End In Tears Or Tantrums

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One of the weirder aspects of social distancing is that your kids may suddenly have more scheduled Zoom meetings than you do. As you might have experienced from your own FaceTime happy hours or digital meetings, the virtual format can be a little hard to navigate (someone is talking while on mute, another person is frozen mid-sip of wine, and your internet connection is randomly unstable). But if you follow the experts' advice on how to have a Zoom playdate, this platform can provide a fun way for kids to catch-up from a safe distance (you can’t just dump out the Lego and Barbie bin and hope for the best, like you would in-person).

With in-person playdates and birthday parties cancelled, everyone's a little starved for human connection these days. It's heartbreaking to see your child miss their pals and not be able to offer any concrete information on when they'll see them again. Whether it's doing a project together, engaging in a virtual art or movement class, or even sitting together to work on some homework, virtual playdates can be almost as good as the real thing, plus your kiddo can have one in their PJs. Read on for five tips for a tantrum-free Zoom playdate.

1. Talk To Your Child About What To Expect

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The virtual playdate is probably a new idea your kiddo (and to you), and even if they've FaceTimed with grandparents or other family members before, they're probably at least a little unsure of what to expect with a friend. Explain to your child what's going to happen; you can mention even details that seem small, like where they will need to look so their buddy can see them. You can also gently let them know the guidelines, like if they're allowed to touch the screen, what happens if the connection is bad, what to do if they need to use the bathroom, and so on, Emelie A. Blank, MA and LPC, tells Romper. If they need a break or want to hang up and are too shy to say it, you can come up with a hand signal that they give you when they're ready to be done. With smaller kids it can be especially helpful to tell them you'll give them a five minute warning before it's time to say goodbye, so it doesn't come as an unwelcome surprise.

2. Keep It Small

It's tempting to want to get the band back together and see their friends at once, especially since kids are used to playing in groups at school. While this is a fun idea in theory, it can actually be pretty overstimulating.

"It can feel overwhelming to be an adult in a big Zoom meeting, imagine how it might feel for [kids'] brains," Blank tells Romper. She adds that it's probably best to keep it one-on-one, especially for little ones under 10.

An exception to this is if the activity lends itself well to a group. "A playdate with just one [other] child makes it easier to interact. However, there might be forums for more than one child, especially if you use structured activities like playing Pictionary or other types of board games," Dr. Lea Lis, a double board-certified adult and child psychiatrist, tells Romper.

3. Find An Activity Everyone Likes

As you've probably noticed, it's hard to expect kids to sit still and talk for long periods of time so it's always a good idea to have an activity lined up beforehand. Maybe each child can build a Lego creation that's part of the same universe, or the kiddos can draw together. Either way, the parents or caretakers should do a bit of communicate beforehand so they know what to prep.

Older kids may like "more cooperative coding games such as Codespark," Lis says. "This allows multiple players to code at once from different places to build a world together. This does not have an audio or video feature, so adding a Zoom connection will allow the kids to talk and see each other at the same time."

If families have the same game, it can be fun for kids to have a virtual game night (or day) together using both game boards. "I’ve heard some awesome stories about folks playing games together, either on screen by sharing a browser or even physically bringing out cards or a board game," Blank tells Romper.

4. Try Movement Or A Class

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Sometimes younger kids will need a bit more structure especially in this unusual playdate format, so you can try a class or another activity with built-in guidance.

"There are awesome online art classes. The one offered by Wendy Macnaughton on Instagram and YouTube is a great option and it's free! [Kids] can do them with your friends using Zoom," Lis tells Romper. Sometimes having the digital equivalent of a teacher can make kiddos feel at ease, and the gentle direction helps guide the playdate, but it's totally okay if kiddos get silly or off-track.

Everyone has a lot of pent up energy right now, and you could turn the playdate into a silly way to get those wiggles out with a pal. "Have your kiddo challenge their friend to a jumping jack contest," Blank says. "[Or] maybe have them watch a GoNoodle exercise video together!"

5. Keep It Short & Sweet, At Least At First

I could talk to my friends for hours at a restaurant, but on Zoom I max out around 45 minutes. Kids deal with this same thing, and so it's wise to set-up a short virtual playdate, especially if it's their first one.

"Start with 10 to 20 minutes," Blank says. You can see how that goes for your child and their playmate, and depending on their interest, you can bump it up to 30 minutes. If you really need your kiddo occupied for a larger chunk of time, you could try having them watch a movie virtually with their pal. Yes, it's screen time, but it's more engaging with a friend watching alongside, especially if your child doesn't have siblings to occupy them at home.

"[A Zoom hangout] can be as simple as watching a movie together with a group of friends, and everyone can make comments during certain parts of the movie, maybe even at designated break moments (intermissions)," Lis says. This can allow for more kids to be involved, and for a longer time without the playdate devolving into, as Lis puts it, "complete chaos."

If the first Zoom hangout doesn't go well (the problem could be staying interested or saying goodbye), all may not be lost. This is uncharted territory for most kids, but like all of us, they're missing day-to-day interaction with peers, and Zoom is better than nothing. Each subsequent playdate should start to feel a little more normal. "Keep the expectations low and your child is sure to do great!" Blank says.

Experts:

Emelie A. Blank, MA and Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

Dr. Lea Lis, double board-certified adult and child psychiatrist and author of "No Shame: Real Talk With Your Kids About Sex, Self-Confidence, and Healthy Relationships"