London-Based Child Psychologist David Kalmanovitch Shares Tips on How Parents Can Explain Social Distancing to their Kids

How Parents Can Explain Social Distancing to their Kids

Traditionally, parents anticipate having to have a variety of awkward and sometimes difficult conversations with their young children. However, none likely compare to what millions of parents across England and around the world are facing in light of the coronavirus pandemic, as they struggle to explain social distancing to their insatiably curious and concerned children.

“As adults, we tend to forget just how much of a young child’s life involves interacting and playing with their little friends, as well as visiting grandparents and other relatives,” commented David Kalmanovitch, a London-based child psychologist with more than 15 years of experience. “Temporarily depriving children of these encounters is obviously the right thing to do from a health and safety perspective, but in terms of social, psychological, emotional and intellectual development, things are not as clear and simple. It is therefore up to parents to be proactive and help their children understand what is happening, and why they cannot experience life today the same as they did a few months ago.”

According to David Kalmanovitch, when explaining social distancing to kids — and the effort typically requires several attempts — parents should keep the following tips in mind:

Focus on the Positives

Rather than alarming children by telling them about the bad things that could happen if they play with their friends or visit their relatives, parents should focus on the positive message that social distancing (which may need a different and more accessible label when comminating with younger kids) is really about keeping people safe and healthy.

“For adults, fear-based messaging can be effective; especially when it comes to warning about serious public health issues,” commented David Kalmanovitch, who is also a professor and mentor in London. “But for young kids, fear-based messaging can be terrorizing and paralyzing. They may even develop mental health disorders like depression and anxiety, which could continue into adulthood. Parents should try and motivate their kids to be part of the social distancing effort, and feel good and proud about keeping themselves, their family, and others in their community safe.”

Explain that the Situation is Temporary

Without experience, information, and reassurance, children can be haunted by the fear that social distancing is a permanent. For example, they may worry about never visiting with their grandparents again. To alleviate this worry, parents should help their kids understand that the situation is temporary.

“We are all hoping that a vaccine will be approved and widely available in the coming months,” commented David Kalmanovitch. “However, it could be a year or even longer before things start returning to normal, and social distancing rules either disappear or, at least, ease significantly. Regardless of how long it takes, parents should remind their kids that this will not last forever, and that smart and caring people around the world are working very hard to make things better.”

Be Patient and Compassionate

Parents are also urged to keep in mind that children, just like many adults, are confused and disoriented by the significant changes that have unfolded in the last few months. Being patient and compassionate are essential to everyone’s wellbeing — children and parents alike.

“Many parents are deeply anxious about their jobs, their savings, their investments, and other things that in addition to the threat of contracting or spreading COVID-19 are keeping them awake at night,” commented David Kalmanovitch. “Despite these pressures, parents should strive to be empathetic. To a four-year old child, not being able to go outside and play with other kids in the neighborhood can be very hurtful and painful. They may even feel as if they are being punished. Parents need to do a lot of listening and a great deal of loving. It will not be easy, but eventually this will pass, and families that support their kids and each other will be stronger for it in the long run.”

I am a child psychologist with more than 15 years of experience. I have always been interested in studying human behaviour.