Care and Feeding

Is There a Kid-Friendly Way to Talk About Social Distancing?

The neighbor’s kids love to come by, hang out, and hug us, but I need them to keep their distance right now.

Three young kids playing with balloons together.
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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m in my late 20s and live in a neighborhood with lots of kids. Due to the pandemic, I’ve been doing social-distance porch hangouts on my front steps. These adorable 3- to 4-year-olds who live down the street love to come hang out with us, and I have “big camp counselor energy” and am always happy to chat with them.

Alas, a problem has come up. These sweet little people love to try to sit on my or my friends’ laps or hug us, something I’d usually be fine with were it not for COVID-19. Their mom comes by to get them, and we usually chat a bit, but I’ve never heard her encourage them to practice social distancing. I don’t want to scare the kids, because I have no idea what they know about the pandemic and I don’t want to hurt their feelings, but I’m not trying to let them get within 6 feet of me, either! Is there a kid-friendly way to tell them to keep their distance?

—Let’s Keep Our Distance

Dear LKOD, 

The next time you see the children’s mother, you should ask, “How has social distancing been going with the little ones?” Say you’re curious about how to talk about the topic with kids and had been wondering what she’d shared with them thus far. If she admits that she simply hasn’t said anything, let her know that you and your friends are being very cautious about the pandemic. Explain that while you don’t want to scare her kids or hurt their feelings, you also want to keep them safe and ask that she speak to them about not getting too close or asking for hugs until it’s safe to do so. Honestly, even under “normal” circumstances you want to be sure she is aware her kids are being cuddly and close with you physically and that she’s OK with that.

If it seems like she’s unwilling to talk to them about it, you’ll simply have to tell the kids yourself that they are welcome to keep hanging with you but they cannot sit on laps, hug, cuddle, or come close right now because there’s an icky cold going around and it’s really important that you protect them from it.

—Jamilah