(WSYM) — With school back in session and kids making new friends, there will no doubt be requests for playdates. But, the pandemic is hitting kids harder than ever with infections and hospitalizations on the rise.
Parents are left to balance the social and emotional health of their children and protecting them from the virus.
We went to get guidance to help you manage the awkward situations and uncomfortable conversations you'll have to manage with kids back in school, the weather turning colder and the request for playdates heating up.
Cannon Michener is just starting the 3rd grade. His mom Tara says he spent a year learning and socializing virtually.
"No kids have been in my house since March 20, 2020, and I used to be the playdate mom," Michener said.
The Michener's are balancing COVID-19 safety and promoting Cannon's social and emotional health. Tara says sometimes that means setting boundaries. As a trained therapist, she suggests framing issues around your needs, not the other person's choices.
"My boundary is is that I have a space limit. If you're not vaccinated and you're around my child, or my boundary is that my child can't be around anyone who doesn't wear a mask," she said.
Tara says just state the facts and most people understand.
"I tell them he's not vaccinated and we want to be safe," she said.
But, she says, how we make this request is key. She suggests keeping a smile on your face so people know you're not being judgmental.
Michener says she doesn't always ask about vaccinations, like when they hosted a small in-person outdoor birthday party for Cannon.
"With the party, I just tell people to mask, and then it'll be a quick party. I was trying to assure the parents and also let prepare them," she said.
Dr. Lucy McGoron, a developmental psychologist at the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute at Wayne State, says unless you know someone is vaccinated or they wear masks, you should ask.
"It's really not that different from other really tough conversations that we have to have as parents and doing playdates," she said.
Those include who will be at the home during a play date or will the kids be wearing helmets when riding their bikes. McGoron says start by making the questions universal.
"Say, hey, I asked everybody this, or it's just my policy to ask everybody about this, to preface that before digging into these questions about vaccines and masks," McGoron said.
Or, you can start by sharing your practices as a way to get the ball rolling. McGoron says it's important to let your child see you navigate these issues in the pandemic and in life.
"We want to see from our children that sometimes we have to have tough conversations with people," she said.
Both Michener and McGoron says you should think about these issues before you have to face them with another family.
Also, when you create your family policy, stick to it.
Consistency will help you stick to your convictions and shows your child what you expect.
No matter where you are in the conversation – the person asking the question or being asked – offer grace to the other person and focus on what's important, keeping our kids healthy.