Kids Really Don’t Want to Social Distance. What Should Parents Do About It?

As coronavirus restrictions loosen and the U.S. reopens, it’s still recommended for the public to practice social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19—but how the heck are we supposed to enforce that for our younger kids?

Last weekend my husband and I took our toddler to a newly-reopened zoo in New Jersey. We wore masks, our temperature was taken before entering, and we walked through the exhibits while keeping a distance from others. After a while, my 21-month-old son wanted to ditch the stroller and walk on his own. He immediately began running around, checking out the animals, and was thoroughly enjoying himself. The issue? Social distancing means nothing to him. My husband and I had to continuously make sure he wasn’t too close to others, and my son grew more and more frustrated because he didn’t understand why he couldn’t just interact with all the other little kids.

American families have been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic since March, when nearly all kids were forced to learn remotely and most socializing shifted online. Now that the country is starting to reopen, people are going back out. But social distancing is an issue with children. In many cases, it’s just not working.

Some parents are devastated every time they have to physically separate their kid from others at the park, or, on the flip side, they are feeling guilt over potentially exposing their children to the coronavirus after allowing a playdate among neighbors. It’s a lose-lose situation, so what should parents do? Do we continue to enforce strict rules to keep our kids safe, or do we worry more about the effects isolation might have on our children and let them socialize, even if that means they’re going to be in close contact with others?

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