Staying Connected During Social Distancing

April 21, 2020
  • Denise Bulling, Ph.D., LIPC
  • Holly Hatton-Bowers, Ph.D.
  • Kara Kohel
  • Soni Cochran, M.S.
  • Susan Harris, M.L.S.
Staying Connected During Social Distancing - Woman waving from her car. Photo credit: Julie Johnson

When you think about the qualities that make our families and communities strong, what comes to mind? Many may initially consider the willingness to offer a helping hand and a tireless work ethic. Of course, these are important, but have you considered that something like spending time with those whom you love or asking for help makes us stronger and more resilient?

Staying Connected while social distancing - photo credit Darcee Fricke

Research consistently tells us that taking care of others and maintaining meaningful relationships across generations are important for resilience and wellbeing. They contribute to a sense of connectedness and belonging, which strengthen the ties between our families and communities. When multiple generations have the opportunity to connect, everyone benefits.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, we are being asked to maintain physical distance from others in an effort to protect the health of our family and friends. However, being physically distant does not mean we need to be emotionally distant from those we love and care about. It is okay to admit you are lonely or having a difficult time adjusting to the new guidelines for social interaction. Being unable to celebrate important events and milestones together may be frustrating, and changes to your regular gatherings can feel like a big loss. If you are feeling this way, reach out to a family member or friend and share your experience. If you are concerned about someone, check-in to see if they need help or a listening ear.

The following suggestions and resources were compiled primarily with families in-mind, but several ideas can be adapted for use within your community.

Timeless Standbys:

Do not underestimate the importance of these simple ways to connect.

Become Pen Pals:

Teen writing a letter - Credit Jaci Foged
  • Send letters about your day -to-day experiences
  • Write about your memories of growing up
  • Share artwork and other activities
  • Choose the same question to answer and write a letter with your response (some examples listed below)
    • Can you tell me about one of your happiest memories?
    • What do you feel most grateful for in your life?
    • What are some important lessons you’ve learned in life?
    • What is your favorite memory of me?

Leave Notes for Neighbors:

  • You can take the time to leave notes on doors steps or in mail boxes saying “I’m thinking of you.” These brief notes help us feel connected and may brighten someone’s day. Remember to sign the notes with your name so they know you care about them and that the note is not a hoax or scam.

Make a Phone Call:

  • Make a plan for regular and consistent phone calls. This gives everyone something to look forward to.
  • Although you cannot be face-to-face, if one person has a cell phone, have your conversation “through the window”.
    • This is also a great opportunity for students to read stories, talk about what they’ve been doing for school, or show-off a recent project.
  • Read a book over the phone, or through a video call (see below).

Host a Porch Concert:

  • If you play an instrument, practice a few songs to play outside of your home for your neighbors.
  • If your instrument in portable, take it on-the-road and play outside an older adult’s home (with their permission and a head’s up, of course).

Write a Note of Gratitude:

  • Think about your family, friends, and community members and send them notes of gratitude. Again, remember to sign your name on the note.
New Technologies:
  • Have a virtual family dinner or holiday celebration with extended family using video calls.
  • Send regular photo or video updates of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
  • Start a family “group message”, or sign up for an application that allows all family members to share photos, videos, and messages all in one place.
  • Use an app or website to read stories or play card games virtually.
Virtual Chats During Social Isolation

Make a video-call: Many video-call applications can be used on computers, tablets, and phones. You can find them on your phone’s application store, or visit the websites to download them.

Young children have shorter attentions spans and may have a hard time staying engaged in the video call or get frustrated that they cannot play with a device as they wish. PBS and ZERO TO THREE have guides for making the most of video calls with young children.

Use props - make it interactive: Suggestions like using props, eating a snack together, and following along with a picture book all help to make the experience more interactive. Parents and older siblings can make the interaction “feel” real by providing hugs and kisses to younger children on behalf of the person on the screen.

Additionally, you may be able to find applications that integrate children’s books and activities within the video call. Caribu is one such application that is currently offering a free subscription to families. Both callers can see the book or activity to share the experience.

Reaching Out is Nebraska Strong

Reaching out to others and asking for help may look a bit different now, but staying emotionally and socially connected is important to our health and wellbeing at all times. Learning to recognize your stressors and how to manage stress can help you personally and those around you. If you recognize someone in distress, use a caring approach in listening to them, and then connect them to resources.

Keep these Hotlines in your phone contacts:

  • Rural Response Hotline: 1-800-464-0258
  • Nebraska Family Helpline: 1-888-866-8660
  • National Disaster Distress Hotline: 1-800-985-5990


Staying Connected During Social Distancing is brought to you by the Nebraska Extension Rural Wellness Team

Photo credits: Woman in Car - Julie Johnson | Couple on the Phone - Darcee Fricke | Teen Writing a Letter - Jaci Foged | Child on Video Call - Holly Hatton-Bowers

Reference to commercial products, trade names, or web sites is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln is implied.