How to practice social distancing with kids

It’s not always easy to practice social distancing with kids. Kids love to explore and play together — so asking them to keep their distance can be tough. But there are ways that parents can teach social distancing — “keeping our hands to ourselves” — that can help families stay healthy together.

Norton Children’s wants every child to be a “Super Kid.” Being a Norton Children’s Super Kid means doing activities that prevent spread of the coronavirus. Super Kids wash their hands, wear a mask and cough into their elbow. Social distancing is another key element of the Super Kid pledge — it’s maybe easier to tell kids “keep my hands to myself.”

How to explain social distancing to kids

Since children are very visual, Felissa Goldstein, M.D., psychiatrist with Norton Children’s Mental & Behavioral Health, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, suggests using tools such as a hula hoop to demonstrate how far a child should be from others.

“Have your child stand in the hula hoop and you stand outside the hula hoop,” Dr. Goldstein said. “And tell your child, ‘So even if there’s not a hula hoop there, that’s still how far apart you have to be.’ Another way to show them is to ask them to hold their arms out and everybody doesn’t let their fingers touch. While I don’t know that it’s exactly 6 feet, it’s again a visual to teach them about their own personal bubble and their sense of personal space. And so, having the hands out helps them give them a more visual model of teaching them social distancing.”

Explaining the physical distance of social distancing is just one aspect of helping children understand the concept.

“Ask kids, ‘What do you know about the coronavirus?’” Dr. Goldstein said. “Understanding what they know can help you understand how to frame the conversation. Keeping it simple and helping them understand what the coronavirus is and helping them see that we are staying away from people so that we don’t make them sick and they don’t make us sick. And so, to be on the safe side for right now, we have to stay at least 6 feet apart from each other.”

One of the tricky things about practicing social distancing with kids can be explaining why other families’ rules are different than your own.

Take the Super Kid pledge

Being a Norton Children’s Super Kid means pledging to:

  • Wear a mask
  • Wash your hands
  • Cough into your elbow
  • Not touch your face
  • Keep your hands to yourself

Be sure to post pictures of your Super Kid wearing a mask by tagging @NortonChildrens and #NortonChildrensSuperKid.

“A question I’ve heard is, ‘How do you explain when kids across the street are all playing together and they’re from three different houses, but my mom says I can’t go out and play with anybody?’” Dr. Goldstein said. “And I think as parents, we also have to explain to our kids that parents sometimes set different rules, and the rules in their house are different than the rules in our house. And while you really may want to play with the kids whose house has different rules, as a parent, I’m trying to do the things that I know to do to help keep you healthy.”

It’s important to try to normalize social distancing and make it fun, too.

“Giving children options such as drawing pictures of themselves and friends that they can mail to their friends or setting up a video chat so your child can chat with their friends can go a long way to make it as easy as possible,” Dr. Goldstein said.


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