“Back to school”……a phrase that brought smiles to our little ones faces at one point in time…and also a joy to parents for having some time off while kids were away to school.

Alas, 2020 has been the year of change and the meaning of “back to school” has changed as well.

While life during the COVID-19 pandemic is difficult for parents and children alike, the buzzword “social distancing” has become one of the key things we should all be doing to help stop the spread of coronavirus. But, a practice that literally contradicts the basic essence of humanity, a word that’s hard enough for adults to truly understand and follow- how do you go about explaining it to kids who keep asking why they can’t visit grandparents or play with their best friends anymore?

As schools prepare to reopen and parents prepare to send kids back to class, expressing the importance of social distancing and mask-wearing to young kids may prove difficult. 

Very young children look at the world in a very literal way. I think it is best to start with understanding what they know about the importance of mask-wearing and staying six feet away from their friends and teachers, and then be clear about our expectations.

Since our kids are kindergarteners, we have been trying to come up with the simplest ways to explain to them the concept of social distancing and the importance of safety & hygiene.

Sharing a few ways to talk about social distancing & maintaining hygiene and safety with young children to get them ready for ‘back to school” days-

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Back To School: How Can Parents Teach Kids About Social Distancing & Safety

1. Keep it simple

First & foremost, it’s important to break down the word “social distancing” into something children can understand easily. To help children understand the concept, we call it “physical distancing”. Practically the idea is to maintain a physical distance; the social part of any relationship can still exist!

2. Talk about the “Whys”

With our kids, I have seen that any statement or argument from our end gains more value if complemented with a convincing reason or example.

Also, according to health experts, giving your children explanations behind why certain hygiene practices are important, can go a long way. When kids understand the logic behind why they need to wash their hands or brush their teeth, it becomes a lot easier for them to remember to do so.

Similarly, when discussing “physical distancing” and the need for the same, start with a general discussion about germs. 

“Germs are so tiny you cannot see them with your eyes. These germs can make us sick if they enter our bodies. Sometimes, people do not know if they are carrying germs that make others sick. So that’s one reason why we’re all physical distancing.”

3. Show what six feet look like.

  • Measure a ribbon or string to 6 feet and place it on the floor so everyone can learn how far six feet is. Now remove the ribbon or string and have each family member guess how long six feet is. The closest guess is the winner. This is the ideal distance you must maintain when outside your home.
  • Cut out pictures of people from magazines and create an outdoor scene on a sheet of paper. Stick these cutouts at an appropriate distance keeping them as far apart as possible to signify social distancing.
  • Use toys like stuffed animals to explain how physical distance is to be maintained. Kids learn very fast with role plays. Have your child set up a socially distant classroom with their stuffed animals and walk them through regular classroom scenarios, like getting up to sharpen a pencil to further cement the idea.

4. Tell stories to younger kids

One of the best ways for kids to understand a variety of topics is through stories. Educational videos can easily be found on YouTube; some are super fun and memorable with cute cartoons that your child will love!

You can use other visual cues like flashcards and picture schedules.


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5. Teach kids about germs and bacteria.

Explain to your child that germs’ biggest enemy is soap and water. To represent how ‘germs run away from soap’, here’s a fun “germs scatter” experiment to make this learning fun while emphasizing the importance of hand wash.

How exactly do you do this?

Put water in a bowl
Sprinkle pepper in the water, which will represent germs
Rub soap on your toddler’s finger
Put their finger in the water
The pepper will quickly scatter to the sides

For very young children who may not understand the concept of viruses and germs, this video from Sesame Street’s Grover is a great way to help them learn about social distance.


6. Make a big deal out of handwashing.

  • Teach kids the five steps for handwashing: wet, lather, scrub, rinse and dry.
  • Come up with a family handwashing song.
  • Teach them how long to wash their hands: scrubbing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • And teach them when to wash hands: After using the restroom, playing outside, coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose, before or after eating, and upon entering the home (or school).

7. Remind your child not to touch their face

Make a game to see how few times we can touch our faces with a reward for the least number of touches.


8. Identify high-touch surfaces. 

Help your child think about which surfaces they (and other people) touch frequently. Re-emphasize this by playing Q&A games.

9. Pretend play

Expressing the importance of social distancing and mask-wearing to young kids may prove difficult. See that the child doesn’t get overwhelmed.

  • Contrary to what you’ve been telling them all these years about the importance of sharing & caring, help them understand that they shouldn’t share things like crayons, toys, and snacks. Answer this confusion by doing pretend play.
  • You may show fun ways to greet friends that don’t require touching. Young children are very touchy-feely and love to greet one another with hugs and high fives. Express to your children that in order to keep everyone healthy, they’re going to have to find new ways to say “hello.” Experiment with air high fives or elbow bumps, or let your child come up with a new, special socially distant greeting to share with their friends.
  • Because your child will be wearing a face mask, which can impact their ability to fully display emotions, help them prepare emotion cards/ emoticons or feeling faces attached to the end of popsicle sticks for an easy way in which they can express their emotions!

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And as Parents, I must say we all are already doing an amazing job and keeping things as normal for our children as possible. So please remember to be kind to yourself!

Go Mommy!

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