Only half of American adults say they still practice social distance and even fewer are self-quarantining. Unfortunately, their decisions leave a rather negative imprint on today’s kids who often perceive masks and the like to inhibit their freedom. Seeing this statistic play out in real life can also confuse young children who don’t fully understand how the virus spreads. Therefore, they may need a little extra help — and a good explanation — about staying six feet away from people.
Here are some of the best ways to teach your little ones about taking precautions so they can keep themselves and others safe.
1. Explain the Situation
Of course, the best way to teach your kids about social distancing is to explain COVID-19 and how social distancing can keep everyone safe. There’s no perfect way to share this information because every child processes information differently. However, it’s typically best to keep things short and concise.
Explain why social distancing is important using simple, plain terms and emphasize protecting yourself and other people. Older children might need more details, so gather resources before having a discussion about this rather sensitive topic. Then, you’ll be ready to share studies, data and medical interviews to back it all up.
2. Share a Visual
Regardless of how old your children are, they’ll likely appreciate visuals to better understand why social distancing is still important. Look for diagrams and pictures that explain transmission and infection. Educational videos may also come in handy.
Scour YouTube for informative clips or talk to your pediatrician about finding trustworthy resources. Your kids’ teachers may also have useful worksheets and other tools to help explain germs and how they travel from one person to another, so don’t hesitate to reach out and ask.
3. Use Play
Hands-on activities are another great way to help little ones grasp the concept of social distancing. Pull out the measuring tape and look for items or areas of your home that are six feet long. Then, see if they can throw a toy that far or estimate the distance without the tape measure.
Red light, green light can be a helpful game, too, especially for younger kids. Line them up in the living room or backyard, turn the opposite way and announce the colors. Once they’re familiar with the calls and what six feet looks like in real life, you can use “red light” to keep them a safe distance from others.
4. Tell a Story
Children tend to understand and engage with stories, especially if they’re age-appropriate and relatable. Luckily, there are quite a few books that explain COVID-19 and why social distancing and wearing a mask are essential precautions.
Analogies may also appeal to the younger generation. For example, your little one has probably been in the car when you’ve pulled over to let an ambulance or firetruck pass. Maybe everyone around you stopped, too — at least they should have. Compare this collective effort to everyone working together to keep their distance and keep others safe.
5. Appeal to Their Empathy
While games and stories may work for toddlers and small children, older kids may need more motivation to minimize contact with friends and family. In this case, you might consider appealing to their empathy.
Explain how precautions can help protect a grandparent or immunocompromised friend. Then, focus on what you can do to contribute to society’s attempt to overcome the pandemic rather than whatever freedom they’re losing. Odds are they’ll respond better to this message of altruism compared to one of coercion.
6. Encourage Virtual Interaction
After more than a year of keeping their distance, your kids are probably ready to give grandpa a hug and high-five their buddies. To keep them from getting antsy — or downright lonely — encourage virtual connection through computers, tablets and mobile phones.
Ring family members and let them chat with your kiddos or schedule a facetime date to share smiles and long-distance kisses. Reach out to parents of your child’s classmates to plan virtual playdates, too. Interacting safely will help them maintain social bonds so they can reconnect in person when the time comes.
7. Be a Good Role Model
When was the last time you gave someone a handshake or embraced a friend? If you can’t remember, odds are you’re already being a good role model for your kids. However, if you’ve been hiring babysitters to go out with friends, your kids will notice, and they’ll probably call you out for it. Worse, they won’t obey your pleas to wear a mask or stay six feet apart.
Therefore, it’s absolutely crucial that you practice what you preach. Monkey see, monkey do, right? Make sure your little ones observe you making changes and remind each other to keep your distance. In time, you’ll both cultivate more awareness and develop better habits.
8. Hold Space and Stay Positive
Adjusting to a new normal isn’t easy, and your kids may respond negatively to information surrounding the pandemic and precautionary measures. Some may even experience the five stages of grief, which are completely normal responses to the pandemic and living in isolation.
Hold space for these emotions and respond sensitively to their fears and frustrations. Then, try to focus on the positives without invalidating their feelings. For example, you might use this time as an opportunity to flex creative muscles and connect with people in new ways instead of dwelling on being physically alone.
Share Success Stories
Did telling stories help your kids understand COVID-19? Maybe playtime presented the biggest teaching moments. Whatever worked for you and your child, remember to share it with other parents. These success stories will encourage them to talk to their kiddos so that everyone stays safe until high-fives and hugs are normal again.