Any parent knows that most kids are social creatures. They’ll talk to anyone and do just about anything for attention. Unfortunately, like the rest of us, our kids have been locked down, quarantined and kept at home over the past two months. As adults we complain about how difficult social distancing is, but it’s really our kids that suffer most.

But there’s a bigger problem behind the lack of social stimulation for our kids during COVID-19. Not only are our kids social creatures for their own amusement, they also depend on social interactions for development. Depriving them of the chance to interact with people for months on end could have some seriously stunting effects on their social skills. Psychologists say our kids need social interaction to help stimulate everything from cognitive growth to emotional development.

My daughter has certainly been down since the shelter in place order went into effect in early March. She’s naturally social, so isolating has been a big struggle. Talking on the phone just isn’t the same, so I’ve been working to come up with solutions that fill her need for social stimulation, while also staying true to social distancing recommendations.

Video playdates aren’t perfect, but they work

I’m on Zoom meetings for work all the time. It dawned on me that most of the other parents I know also use Zoom for their jobs as well. The solution? Zoom play dates for the kids! I chatted with a few other parents to set up dates and times that work for everyone, then set up a host key so we could alternate between parents who host.

Right now, the group has anywhere from 3-7 kids who tune in for the Zoom playdates each week—with their parents, of course. We’ve set up activities for the kids to interact with each other in structured ways. One of the parents in our group even does a cool show-and-tell style session (she’s a ecologist). It’s not a perfect substitution for an actual play date, but it’s something my daughter looks forward to, so that’s got to be worth something.

Pen pals are making a comeback

One of my daughter’s friends (we’ll call her Emilia), sent out “I miss you” cards to her friends a few weeks back. I had my daughter write her a short letter back. Then, a few days later, a longer letter from Emilia came back, and thus began a pen pal relationship. My daughter knows exactly what time the mail gets delivered each day and she’s always on the lookout for a fun-colored envelope (we’ve been sending letters with fancy supplies).

The interaction isn’t direct, but there’s definitely a social and emotional element at play. I know the girls will have a stronger bond of friendship coming out of quarantine. Plus, any chance to get her to practice her penmanship is a win!

When all else fails, visit distantly

There are a bunch of kids in my neighborhood. Every few days I see a group of them outside playing together… at a distance. They’re kicking a soccer ball back and forth or riding scooters in a circle around the cul-de-sac. The funny thing is, they’re way more than six feet apart. I bet they don’t come within 15 feet of each other! Four or five of them even sat in folding chairs and played their Nintendo Switches together, yelling back and forth for the world to hear. Say what you will about social distancing rules—I think the kids win this one.

We may all be cooped up inside, waiting for the time when we can visit with our friends again, but social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation. Especially for kids, it’s important to interact with people—even if you have to get creative.