IncludeNYC logo

Tips for Social Distancing with Children

October 20, 2021
Family Support, Parenting

As schools reopen, students will need to adjust to social and physical distancing among their peers. Here are some tips for making it happen:

Talk about why.

  • Understanding why it is necessary to take precautions like social distancing will help children understand the importance and take it more seriously.
  • Emphasize the collective benefit, including protecting ourselves and others from COVID-19. Explain that adhering to precautions will help things get back to normal.
  • Based on the child’s needs, it can be as simple as discussing that we all want to feel well and be healthy. Explain that sometimes when we are too close we can get sick. We practice social distancing to protect ourselves and the people around us. You might also discuss germs and how we can spread germs even if we don’t seem sick.
  • For more mature young people, you may share more details about the virus using news clips or articles as appropriate. The goal is to inform students of the seriousness of the pandemic without causing undue stress, so consider what your child can handle.

Demonstrate social distancing and practice.

  • Ensure that children understand the concept of social distancing, emphasizing that it means staying 6 feet away from people on all sides, like a big bubble around us. It might be helpful to demonstrate with pictures or drawings, and to show what it might look like in the classroom or hallways.
  • Make sure they understand how far 6 feet is. Use fun videos, like this one from Sesame Street, to think about “near” and “far,” and then find something relevant in their lives or of interest to them that can be used as a comparison. For example, an adult bike, a dolphin, or the width of a subway car could each be used as a frame of reference. This gives kids something concrete and visual to keep in mind.
  • Practice! Repeated rehearsal of social distancing will help make it a habit. This might mean taking a walk where you and your child focus on maintaining 6 feet of space between you at all times. Or, make it a game. Have some fun by shouting out objects in the room—the first person to be six feet away from it wins!

Make a plan for different circumstances.

  • Planning out how children can handle social distancing in different situations can help ease stress and allow them to make quick decisions on how to be safe. Your planning might include:
    • Discussing activities that can naturally be done 6 or more feet apart.
    • Listing the things your child likes to do that typically require being near their friends, like greeting each other, playing games, or chatting. Then, plan specific solutions. For example, if your child loves to hug their friends, they might create a dance move, a distance handshake, or an “air hug” as a substitute. Let them have fun and get creative with it.
    • Prepping for what to do if another student is invading their space or not social distancing. What can your child say or do in these situations? Planning the responses or actions will help your child feel more at ease in the moment. This planning may include a discussion of peer pressure, as well, e.g. what to do if a friend or classmate is encouraging you to break social distancing rules.
    • More practicing! Once you have a plan, rehearse it. Keep in mind that some behaviors like hugging, high-fiving, or contact-play are automatic habits or spontaneous acts that will require practice and forethought to avoid.

Reinforce and reward.

  • Treat social distancing as you would any other desired behavior. Praise, celebrate, and reward when your child demonstrates it, and acknowledge how much they are helping everyone stay healthy and contributing to the greater good.
  • Incentivize social distancing until it becomes a habit. You might identify something of high interest to your child, like watching a movie or playing a board game, that they can earn by social distancing.

Check-in about this new habit.

  • Consider building in a routine of discussing how social distancing went at school each day. As a caregiver, you may want to know that health procedures and guidelines at your child’s school are being followed, without making them feel stressed or anxious about it. Making it a routine, like a daily check-in asking how things went at school, rather than leading questions, may help the discussion to feel normal rather than scary or stressful. 
  • Contact NYC Well for help coping with COVID-19:

Be patient.

  • The reopening of schools may be the first time your child is faced with the temptation of getting too close to friends. At some point, kids are going to get too close, whether by accident or on purpose. It’s normal for young people to test the limit of any boundary imposed on them. Even adults have thoughts of “it’s just this once” or “it can’t be that big of a deal” at times. When this happens, revisit the discussion of why social distancing is important, plan what they will do differently in the future, and move on. If this is our new normal, we must find a way to manage the day-to-day stresses of life during COVID-19. The precautions we take, like social distancing, reduce the risk and harm, but it is not possible to eliminate it completely, so do the best you can.
  • If you are worried about an incident of close contact, get a test. You might consider getting periodic tests as a precautionary measure. Keep in mind that waiting periods for results may be delayed. For more information about testing, visit