How To Explain Social Distancing To Kids

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With some children returning to school, parents will be tasked with explaining the importance of social distancing.

It can be difficult to explain the concept of social distancing to young children, so we have collected some resources and ideas to help parents describe to their kids what social distancing is, why its important, and how they can keep their distance from their classmates. When explaining coronavirus and social distancing to children, parents should be prepared to answer some extreme questions - but they should focus on making kids feel safe and reassured.

Adults agreed to tough restrictions on their personal lives because we understand how important social distancing is in stopping the spread and protecting the most vulnerable people in society - and it is no different with kids. Once kids understand the reasons for staying at home, they are surprisingly motivated to take part to help other people.

The key is to show children how they are helping others with their actions - for example, for kids who miss seeing their grandparents, try explaining that: "The coronavirus makes old people very sick. Children can carry coronavirus but not know they have it, so we can't visit granny/grandad in case we give her the virus. The good news is that we can talk to her and see her on the phone. She/he misses you so much, and loves when you show her/him pictures that you've drawn or when you read your books together over the phone." By explaining social distancing in this way, you are showing how your child can protect their grandparent, as well as encouraging them to be kind to them by keeping in touch through phone calls.

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Educate Don't Overwhelm

Research that was done after the 9/11 attacks showed that children who were well informed about the situation were less anxious than those whose parents kept them in the dark - and so it is best to explain and educate children so that they don't become overly anxious or upset. The trick is to find age-appropriate ways of talking about a serious and somewhat scary situation, and to build on the knowledge that your kids already have - for example, it can be useful to describe how we normally protect ourselves from other viruses, like the common cold or flu, before explaining about the coronavirus. For further information on explaining COVID-19 to kids, read this article.

Social distancing is likely to be the hardest part of the coronavirus situation for kids, and so we take a look at several different ways to make it seem good - or even, heroic for kids to keep their distance!

Choose Your Language

Choosing simple language and easy to understand concepts is a great starting point when explaining the pandemic - and the idea of social distancing - to kids, which is true for toddlers and tweens. High levels of anxiety or stress can make it hard to process complex or difficult language, and so the first step in explaining social distancing is to make it simple but meaningful.

Talk to children about how social distancing means that we have to stay away from others until the risk of catching coronavirus has become lower. Older children may find it useful to see the 'flatten the curve' graphs and charts, as it can reinforce the importance of social distancing. If you search for more information on flattening the curve it is easy to become quickly overwhelmed - the Osmosis YouTube channel has a great presentation that explains how to stop the spread, which is perfect to watch with older children.

If it feels right to share more information with your kids, then tell children that whilst we don't know how long we will have to do social distancing, we do know that now is the time to take it seriously - and that it is important that we all play our part, strictly following the government guidelines.

Younger kids might get overwhelmed with too much information, and so some experts have suggested avoiding the details - keeping the message as simple and positive as possible. Try explaining the situation in a way that suits that day's activities, rather than as a long-term project - something along the lines of: "We're not having a play date today because we want to keep our germs to ourselves, and not share them with our friends/family - because we want to keep everybody healthy and happy".

Use a Positive Tone

Although the message has the potential to be scary, it is important to talk to kids about the virus with a positive tone. Add in a bit of humour and fun, so that the conversation isn't serious, boring or worrying for children. Why not have a hand-washing competition to see who can do it the best? Or see who can come up with the best socially distanced greeting? You could even make a storybook or cartoon where the hero defeats Covid-19.

Use a Strong Visual

Young kids may need a visual to truly understand the virus and the reasons it is important to stay away from their friends and family. Using only simple household ingredients - just caster sugar and table salt, as well as a small glass jar - it is possible to show kids how viruses spread, and how staying apart is the best way to keep healthy. Pour out some sugar into your child's hand, explaining that these are the healthy people, then have your child put the sugar into the jar. Next, pour out a little bit of salt into their hand - explaining that this represents the people who have the virus but don't know that they do. Have your child pour the salt into the jar with the sugar, swirl it around, and then have your child try to find the salt. This is a powerful visual representation - watch the full tutorial here - and it may be the most effective way of explaining social distancing.

Videos for Kids Aged 2-5

Sesame Street's Grover explains social distancing in the simplest possible terms in this video. Rather than explaining about germs and viruses, he shows young kids that it's bad to get too close, and good to be far away.

Storytelling is a great way to share information with kids, and this video by Kim St. Lawrence may help young kids to understand that now is the time to stay in and avoid seeing friends and family members so that they can help stop the spread of the virus. The beautiful story is less than 2-minutes long, and it doesn't focus on the virus itself - instead, it gets kids excited about all the things they can do at home before they're allowed to see their friends again.

Videos for Kids Aged 5 +

This video from Kiwi Co shows in a really simple way how a virus spreads, and why staying at home is the best way to stop people getting sick. This video does a great job of explaining how kids can protect the other people in their community - and has been designed to be calming and fun, rather than scary or stressful.

Cincinnati Children's YouTube channel has made an upbeat and easy to understand video.

Another great video - which is narrated by a child - explains our current situation in more general terms. It explains cleanliness, why the shops are shut, and how playing games online is a fun alternative.

Rosanna Robertson
Godmother to two little girls

Godmother to two little girls, Rosanna enjoys finding ways to entertain her goddaughters with games, cooking and – best of all - arts and crafts. Having studied Fine Art, Rosanna uses her creativity to make colourful, fun and educational art and craft projects that are perfect for kids of all ages. Full of ideas for homemade cards and handcrafted gifts, toys and decorations – Rosanna also has a knack for finding child-friendly cultural activities and fun places for kids to blow off steam.