Social distancing is a challenge for all of us, but social distancing for kids and teenagers can be even harder.
As we all adapt to this new way of living, missing family and friends is just part of the struggle. Some kids – especially younger ones – find it hard to understand why they need to distance. Others fail to grasp what a safe distance looks like, making daily family exercise more stressful than fun.
Here are 3 reasons why social distancing is difficult for kids to understand and how parents can help.
1. Kids need to understand why
While older children might grasp the science behind social distancing, younger ones need a more straightforward explanation. Using stories and videos which bring the concept of germs and viruses to life can help – there are lots of great examples here.
It’s also important to keep talking to kids about the pandemic and make sure you answer their questions. While it can be tempting to hide bad news, research shows that this can increase kids’ anxiety. US psychiatrist Dr Nina Chaudhary stresses the importance of an open dialogue in Forbes Magazine :
“Parents should first gauge what kids already know so that they can build on that knowledge to fill in gaps or dispel information that’s inaccurate. Describing how we protect against spreading infection when we have colds or other sicknesses is a good starting point to help kids wrap their mind around what’s happening.”
2. Kids need to see how their actions are helping others
The key to explaining social distancing to kids is to show how they are helping others by their actions. This gives children a positive outcome and helps them to make sense of the changes in their daily lives. Writing in The Irish Times recently, John Sharry gave an example of how parents might explain social distancing to a 4 year old who can’t visit a grandparent.
“There is a virus, called Covid19, that makes old people very sick. Children can carry Covid19 but not know they have it. So we can’t visit Nana in case we give her the virus. The good news is that we can talk to her and see her on the phone. She misses you very much and loves when you show her pictures or when you read your books together over the phone at bedtime”.
3. Some kids can’t visualise the distance
Many kids simply don’t know what 2 metres looks like. Visualising distance is a life skill acquired over time, helped by activities like driving and taking part in competitive sports.
Giving kids a precise visual reference and using fun technology can really help.
Discovery Education have launched a free app which is designed to help kids of all ages understand social distancing.
Social Distance Training uses augmented reality (AR) to help parents and families experience the science behind social distancing from the palm of their hands.
Accessed via the camera on a tablet or smartphone, the app places a holographic person in front of a child, enabling them to practice standing at a safe distance, with helpful prompts. And because it can be easily used at home, it helps kids to see the distance safely without using the house.
Discovery Education’s Phil Birchinall, who developed the app, explains the thinking behind it:
“Children may really understand the need for social distancing but actually visualising it can be tricky. The app is designed to allow them to safely get a feel for the correct distance with a virtual person. It also creates a focus on the concept and a talking point to share virtually with friends to encourage good practice.”
Social Distance Training is available in the Apple App Store here.
Helping kids to understand social distancing, and the need to stick with it, is one of our most important jobs as parents right now. As we all edge towards a new normal, let’s reassure ourselves that we’re equipping our kids for the future. Social distancing won’t last forever, but the empathy and social responsibility we’re all practising hopefully will.
If you are looking for other resources to use to help kids at this difficult time, do check some of the other ideas on the site:
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