Child psychologist recommends staying connected to the community despite being socially distant this Thanksgiving

MADISON, Wis. — As health officials urge families to not hold in-person celebrations this Thanksgiving, SSM Health child psychologist Dr. Kathleen Hipke wants to make sure families still feel connected to the community around them.

Hipke said connection is such a big focus during the holidays, and now that many of us are apart, it’s even more important.

She said families should try to remember back to the beginning of the pandemic when they were coming up with creative ways to stay in touch with others. Hipke said families were teaching grandmas how to use Zoom or drawing pictures and writing letters to mail to relatives or chalking sidewalks with friendly messages.

“There was a big flurry of activity, but now it’s been a lot of months and there’s some fatigue. But just remembering what did we do? How have we done that over time? And how can we keep reaching out to our neighbors? Because it helps feel like part of a bigger whole at a really difficult time and that’s critical,” said Hipke.

She said feeling like you’re part of a larger community is really important for kids, and giving back to others can give them a sense of purpose.

You can still safely donate food to local pantries for Thanksgiving baskets, but Hipke said families can also do small things to give back and show gratitude. She said kids can call a lonely family member or rake leaves for a neighbor.

She’s also heard of some teenagers volunteering to tutor younger kids in the neighborhood who might be struggling with virtual learning.

As it starts to get colder, there won’t be as many chances to connect with others playing outside or taking a walk around the block, but Hipke said families will just have to try a little harder to maintain those relationships now.