Buiding a Sense of Community While Sheltering In Place

May 6, 2020

Now more than ever, during this global pandemic, community connections make a difference. And the difference doesn’t just translate to small businesses staying open or masks being distributed to those without – community connections are critical for children and teens in a myriad of ways.

Children who are connected to extended family, friends and neighbors have a sense of belonging, opportunities to learn about getting along with others, people to go to when they need help and a network they can use to learn from and grow. Strong social connections can also boost your child/teen’s confidence, social skills, decision making and critical thinking. Helping facilitate your family’s connection with community is one of the most important things you can do for your child/teen.

Here are 4 ways to get started:

  1. Make opportunities for trusted relatives or family friends to have time with your
    child/teen – now it has to be virtual and/or 6-feet apart but soon we hope we’ll be back
  2. Get involved in community events when possible – work in a community garden, make
    signs and write letters to residents of local nursing facilities, strap on masks and go work
    at a food bank.
  3. Get to work on your family photo albums to spark your child’s interest in relationships
    that are important to your family. Write short stories about memories together.
  4. Role model social skills with people in your community. This can be as simple as saying
    “hello”, “please” and “thank you”. Your child/teen will watch the way you talk to people
    (even when you don’t think they are paying attention) and follow your example

Below are some additional thoughts about the value of community and how to find it from our Wise Family team of clinicians here in Northern Virginia – during a pandemic and every other day. Enjoy and Be Wise!

Dorri C. Scott, Resident Clinical Social Worker for the Wise Family

Mom, Dad – Kids Have Feelings Too! – In the midst of the pandemic, parents may be wondering…”What’s really going on with my little ones?” “How do I connect with my teenager who is BORED, tired of being home?” More deeply you might be asking, “How is the isolation, anxiety and uncertainty affecting the kids?”

While parents cannot erase the loss of childhood dreams like graduation, a prom or regular play dates with friends, there are things parents can say and do to help children feel safe, loved and protected during the pandemic. Use the list below to provide comfort, a safe connection and support.

  • Establish and maintain routines daily. Every day have a plan.
  • Learn new creative ways to connect with family near and far. Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, letter writing are examples and great ways to reach out.
  • For the ambitious, consider journaling every day about the pandemic. Make a family movie. Distribute it and share. Grandparents will be your best audience.
  • Set up regular virtual play dates.
  • Host, find and plan group activities online. Let your kids decide what they want to do, who will be invited and select activities. It is their time. The more they engage, the better. Let the time be theirs to create and experience whatever is important to them.
  • Create something of use. Mask making is the newest best hobby. Make them. Share them. Wear them and for the budding entrepreneur in your family, help them start a business and sell them.
  • Get physical. Wear the newly created masks on your walks in the neighborhood.
  • Take a family exercise class online. Reassuring your children with a positive attitude will help children feel safe. Focusing on the “Now” will reduce feelings of anxiety. Teaching gratitude builds character.
  • Finally, limit the news watching. News impacts the attitude and feelings of your children (and you too.) While updates are expected, know periodic breaks are good for keeping your home a happy, loving place – even in the pandemic.

Karin Purugganan, Resident in Counseling:

My husband and I have tried hard to have our children be polite with each other. I’m lucky because it is very cultural for him (Philippines native) to teach children in families to be responsible for younger siblings, and to show older siblings respect. These two “R’s” get talked about a lot in our home.

When I think of creating a sense of community, I try to bring it home first. How are we treating each other? Are we showing respect and accepting responsibility for others? Teaching my son to take in the elderly neighbor’s trash can is one way of teaching him both. Having the earnest conversation with him about her ailing health, and his strength, give him the opportunity to realize that he is capable in many ways.

I think when we look for community and connections, we should start at home. Go forth from there. How can we help those immediately around us, sharing our skills and knowledge in a responsible way, while also respecting others. Leaning into the strengths of those around us can assure that we thrive within our communities.

Rebecca Staines, LPC:

It is a difficult time to work on building community, especially when a statewide stay at home order is still in effect for the next month. Fortunately, this is when getting creative can be very effective. For example, the other week I saw a family taking an afternoon stroll and dropping off baskets with Easter treats to different doorsteps. My aunt does something similar with her baked goods. Now that we have more time at home, it is a perfect opportunity to bake a goody with your kids and divide the batch to share with neighbors. No contact during delivery is needed, and a special note can be left on the package to let your neighbor know that someone is thinking of them.

There are also various churches and other organizations in the area that are orchestrating card deliveries to people in nursing homes. During a rainy day, you can have your kids of any age create a card and write a special message to someone who may be feeling lonely. These cards can be dropped off at a local church to be delivered to the nursing homes later. There is so much to be gained from such a simple act. Your child gets to have a creative outlet, practice giving, and work on fostering a sense of connection and community with those who are suffering right now.

Amy Sosa, Client Happiness Team Leader:

During this unprecedented time, I have embraced the fact that this pandemic period is a small blessing in disguise as far as lifestyle and pace. I’ve heard this uncertain time referred to as The Great Pause recently, which is very fitting. Things have slowed down tremendously, but maybe that is not such a bad thing. I know many are sheltering in place at home to keep others safe and to help flatten the curve of the Corona Virus. The positive is we have more time on our hands than what we are accustomed to.

In this downtime with my family of 5 at home, I have tried to find a new balance of maintaining work and online school demands for my two elementary aged kids. Our sense of community has been strengthened with the efforts our teachers have put forth to keep kids interested in learning. It gives me great joy to see how well my kids have acclimated to Zoom calls with teachers and friends. They light up when they are able to connect – kids thrive on connection and not being able to play or see friends has been difficult but these Zoom calls help curb the void a bit. I am grateful for the continued efforts put forth by our wonderful teachers!

In addition, without even realizing it, my 10-year-old daughter has strengthened our sense of community with our neighbors. She has been filling the street in front of our house with chalk drawings. She draws hearts, messages about being kind, pictures of the planet Earth and other encouraging things. We have an elderly couple down the street who have commented on how much they enjoy her drawings on their daily walk. Before the pandemic, I had never really spoken to this couple outside of the occasional neighborly wave. They only live a few doors down from us in our cul-de-sac. During this time of Great Pause, I have spoken to them several times. The woman’s health is ailing but she perks up at the chance to connect with conversation. (at least 6 feet away, of course!) The fact that my daughter, through her small artistic gesture, has given them something to look forward to on their daily walks makes me so proud.  Her artwork is bringing people joy – although a small act it makes a big impact.

And remember, we are only a text or phone call away if you need support! We offer Online Counseling Services too. Text ‘wisehelp’ to 66866 or call 1-844-WISE FAM ext. 1 to make your counseling appointment. Until next time, Stay Safe!