Social Distancing Guide for Kids and Families

Published April 9, 2020
Child Practicing Proper Social Distancing

Social distancing, although helpful health-wise during a pandemic, can feel incredibly confusing for children to understand. Helping your child understand this concept can assist your family in dealing with pandemics such as Covid-19, as well as any others that may occur in the future.

Explaining Physical Distancing to Kids

With rules and regulations around social distancing changing, it's important to keep your explanation as simple as possible as you explain it to your child. Doing so in an age appropriate way can help your child understand certain actions and precautions that your family is taking to ensure everyone's safety.

Helping Toddlers Understand Social Distancing

Ideally, toddlers are not leaving the house unless necessary during a pandemic. If they will not stay in a stroller, in your arms, or a baby-carrier, it's important to be extra vigilant about their whereabouts when out in public and try to have them avoid touching other individuals or publically handled items. This age group can be especially tricky to manage during a pandemic such as Covid-19 because toddlers tend to be very hands on and enjoy exploring with all of their senses. Before leaving the house, speak with them about holding your hand and not touching other people. Be sure to bring toys that can be easily sanitized and will occupy their attention. Know that if you can avoid having them in other people's space, that's a win. You can also:

  • Say, "Other people are sick and we don't want to get sick so we're going to hold hands when we're out today."
  • Positively reinforce them holding your hand or letting you carry them.
  • Offer a special snack that they really like as you hold them or push them in a stroller and remind them that we only eat this snack when being held or sitting in the stroller.
  • Say, "It's really important that we wear our special mask today so we stay healthy", or "let's wear our masks today and pretend we're (insert child's favorite animal or character)."

With this age group, it's best to keep your statements really simple so your child remembers what you said. You don't necessarily need to discuss the pandemic with them, but if you choose to, be sure not to scare them or make them feel unsafe. Try to run your errand as quickly as possible and let your child know how great of a job they did holding your hand or sitting nicely in their stroller.

Small boy talking to his mother

Helping Young Children Understand the Concept of Physical Distancing

With older children, you can explain the pandemic in simple terms and then note that everyone is doing something called social distancing so the virus doesn't spread as easily. Chances are you'll receive a fair amount of questions from your child, so be sure to answer in a concise and calm way. You can say:

  • "Social distancing means keeping about six feet of space between people, or about a horse."
  • "We are social distancing to help keep us and others safe from spreading any germs."
  • "Germs can spread if someone coughs or sneezes near you, so we're trying our best to keep as much space between us and others as possible right now."
  • "We're going to wear our masks when we go out today and try not to touch our faces. When we come home, we're going to wash our hands extra well."

Reassure your child that you will keep them safe and that everyone is doing their best to not spread any more germs. Help them process how they feel about social distancing and continue to do so during the current pandemic or any subsequent ones.

father applying mask to his daughter

Talking With Your Teen About Social Distancing

Depending on your teen's maturity level, you can discuss the pandemic in more detailed terms. Help them process their emotions around social distancing and be sure that they fully understand what it means. Your teen may be missing their friends and wondering why they can't see just a few of them. Discuss that some individuals may be asymptomatic or on the brink of showing symptoms so everyone is social distancing to be as safe as possible. Continue to remind them that this is temporary and that they are doing a great job following the rules of maintaining physical distance.

Practicing Social Distancing With Your Child

Before heading out, it's best to practice social distancing with your child. With really little ones, have them decorate their face mask or any other face protective gear if you plan on having them wear one. Wear your mask as well and make this a fun game with your child by pretending to be something they like such as an animal or favorite book or television character. Practice at home before heading out in public so they can be as prepared as possible. With older kids and teens, you can also practice at home before heading out. Test the six foot distance rule a few times with them ensuring that they understand what that looks like visually before heading out.

Enforcing Social Distancing

When you're out in public and your child is on the brink of a meltdown, or is having a hard time listening, it's best to stay calm and act quickly. With a pandemic like Covid-19 going on, allowing your child to meltdown inside a crowded public space is not ideal, especially if they throw themselves on the ground or tend to bolt.

Remove Your Child From the Situation

If possible, calmly let your child know that you're going to head outside together so you can both stay safe. If they don't walk out with you, pick them up and head out as quickly as possible. Once your child is a bit more relaxed, discuss why they are upset, validate their feelings, and then remind them that it's super important to stay close together while in public so you both don't get sick. If your child is up for it, head back in and try again, but if not, it's okay to head back home and try an outing at a different time if possible.

Tips for Success

You can also:

  • Be very mindful of only doing necessary outings when your child tends to be in a good mood. This means that they're not hungry or overtired when you head out. Children also tend to have certain times of day where they seem to be more irritable, so try to avoid leaving the home at that time if possible.
  • With older kids, continue to remind them that you both need to stay close together and as far away from others as possible during this outing. Positively reinforce their good behavior and make them feel proud of themselves for helping their family and others stay safe.
  • With teens, give them positive reinforcement as well and remind them that this is temporary.
  • Be very aware of your child's near meltdown signs and either try to hurry up and finish the errand or head back home to avoid a full blown meltdown when in public. It's super important to not allow your child to throw themselves on the ground or bolt when in public, especially during a pandemic.

Keeping Your Family Safe

Pandemics, such as coronavirus, can feel very stressful to go through, especially if you have children who are having difficulty understanding social distancing. Continue speaking with your child or children in age-appropriate ways and be kind to yourself during this time. Stay up to date with new rules and recommendations and continue to do your best to keep your family as safe as possible.

Social Distancing Guide for Kids and Families