BROCKVILLE, ONT. -- Physical distancing and school closures have kids bound to their homes, and that can make it tougher for them to stay close to their friends.

But, thanks to technology, kids can now get together on their tablets and phones through multiple apps.

"They've gotten used to it in a pretty quick turnaround in the new normal," says Kim Bennett, mother to Lucas, 10, and Zach, 6.

The family would normally be busy several days a week with sporting events and gatherings, but that's all changed.

"It's most difficult for Lucas," Bennett says. "He plays every sport there is, so this is like a total change of pace. Usually, we're going to hockey or soccer or baseball and it's just slowed to a complete halt.

"They see their cousins every single day at school, and then they go to their grandparents' after school. We see friends a lot."

Six-year-old Zach says, "It's really hard. We want it to be over soon."

Fortunately, mom says, there are ways to keep the kids engaged.

"Zach is missing school and his friends but we can kind of manage that with talking to them on video chat and things like that."

Bennett's kids have turned to things like Zoom, Facebook Messenger for Kids, or X Box to stay connected with friends and teammates. The boys have even started to play virtual "Battleship" over video chat with their cousins.

Lucas and Zach Battleship

Friendships key to staying healthy

Lorena Crosbie is the executive director of Children's Mental Health of Leeds and Grenville and says it's important for kids to stay connected during this time.

"In order to have good, healthy social development, part of that is staying connected with friends, making friends, keeping friends, and just that sense of belonging," Crosbie says.

According to Crosbie, children who don't connect with others may feel depressed or become anxious, which can affect their mental health. Kids can become bored if they're not stimulated so, during this time, it's important to have a little fun.

"Parents may see that in terms of behavioural and mood changes," Crosbie says. "It's helpful because parents know their kids best, so they're sensitive to changes, and they can ask their kids about that."

With most kids out of their schedules and routines, it's tough to find the right balance of screen time. If you've set time limits for your kids, loosening them is okay.

"You have to try and find balance," Crosbie says. "Avoid being in front of screens at bedtime, but encourage other types of activities."

The biggest issue is to make sure kids feel that they belong, and to try and keep friendships going.

"Friendships help kids develop all kinds of skills and most important during this time would be helping to build resiliency for kids," Crosbie says. "That incredible sense of belonging that's important for kids, that will protect them."

Crosbie adds there are multiple mental health services across the province willing to help, who provide services virtually or over the phone.

Austin Audrey video chat

For Bennett, she's been getting her kids out of the house for drive-bys of friends' homes.

"We've done a couple of drive-by tours of friends' houses," she said. "We've gone to the end of their driveway and they'll be out on the porch and we'll say a quick hello. It's nice to see friends that way, as well."

Getting kids outside more often, even in your own back yard, is also a big plus.

"Both of my sons wear activity trackers, so they are usually like 15,000 steps a day and there have been some days at lunch where they're at one thousand," said Bennett.