It’s been a year and a half of play dates canceled because of pandemic realities. But now that children age 5 and older can be vaccinated, some parents are sorting through new factors.
Not all children will be vaccinated; some might have conditions that raise caution, just like adults; others may have parents who wish to wait or do not trust the vaccine. And, of course, depending on the ages of children involved, many people may have children or family and friends of varying ages and vaccine eligibility.
All of this can create conversations around play dates as winter closes in and not everything can be done outdoors, where play dates are a safer option. Even within families, parents might be on different pages regarding caution and risk; divorced parents may disagree on who their child can see and when.
Gemma Allen, an attorney who works with divorced parents, said she has seen parents disagree over whether children should immediately get vaccines; she counsels couples who simply cannot agree to consider letting a pediatrician, counselor or trusted family member serve as a tie-breaker.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges that children are at a lower risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19 but notes that children can still get infected, be very sick, have short- and long-term health complications and spread the virus to others.
Public health officials have also highlighted, as vaccines roll out to kids, the reality of vaccine hesitation; U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released a toolkit about misinformation and emphasized it again this week after vaccines were approved for children. “It is more important than ever that families have access to accurate, science-based information,” Murthy said.
Regardless of why children may or may not be vaccinated, parents will be navigating new factors.
Lisa Seidenberg, a mom with an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old who lives in Northbrook, said she has been considering play date scenarios as both her boys will be vaccinated officially with their second doses by December.
“Without them being vaccinated, we’ve been moving forward with play dates, mostly outside, and often in large groups with masks,” she said. “Now that it’s getting colder, and outside play dates will be harder to move forward, I’m open to doing play dates inside.”
But she hopes the other adults and kids will all be vaccinated.
Still, “I understand a lot of families are taking a wait-and-see approach to get their kids vaccinated,” Seidenberg said.
So if a family asks for a play date but their child isn’t vaccinated, she would meet as long as adults were vaccinated and everyone wore masks. If she doesn’t know the family well, she would ask whether parents and kids are vaccinated and plans to make a case-by-case decision.
She and her husband decided they will focus on smaller-sized play dates and then make sure that for bigger gatherings like Thanksgiving, everyone attending is vaccinated and feeling well.
With her sons vaccinated, she does feel more comfortable going out in public spaces in general, she said, like to museums and sporting events.
Many parents will be sorting through where they will meet and how to ask questions and convey the new rules to children.
For parents navigating these new landscapes, remember children do best when they are in a routine, said Danielle Dick, a psychologist and author of “The Child Code.” The pandemic has upended routines, and the rules keep changing. This new vaccination layer will create a new set of rules, too.
First, figure out as a family what you want to do or avoid. For example, perhaps you have children wear masks around playmates who are not yet vaccinated.
Then make these rules clear to your children. Dick suggested saying something like, “Play dates are going to be different now. You don’t have to wear a mask if your friend has also gotten their vaccination, but you do have to wear a mask if your friend isn’t yet fully vaccinated.”
The next consideration, of course, is how kids might respond. Some children who have been more anxious during this time might need time to adjust to not wearing a mask. Maybe they want to keep wearing a face covering until they feel comfortable removing it. But other kids might forget to wear a mask when they are supposed to now that they don’t need to wear one as often.
“Think through how your child is likely to handle the change,” Dick said.