I was scooting up our street with my two boys earlier this week (well, they were scooting...I was walking fast to keep up), when they spotted one of our neighbors learning to ride a bike.

"Can we go say hi to him?" my 6-year-old asked.

"Yeah, yeah, can we?" my 4-year-old chimed in, excitedly.

I pointed out a parked car. "You can go as far as that red station wagon," I instructed. "And you can say hi from there."

With coronavirus continuing its spread, we are now officially in a time of social distancing, a term many of us were not familiar with until last week—a lifetime ago. How do we explain this new way of being to our children?


Using simple language and concepts, at least as a starting point, is the best approach for children ranging from toddler to tween—especially as higher levels of stress and anxiety can make it more difficult to process complicated ideas.

Children vary so much in their verbal and social-emotional development that even two kids who share the same chronological age may have very different ways of understanding or expressing complex problems. The goal is to break it down in ways that are simple, but meaningful.

These 10 phrases can help you explain social distancing to your kids.

1. "We're all working together to fight this foe."

Children respond well when we personify things that are difficult to understand. Even through elementary school, they often think of the world in terms of good guys and bad guys, superheroes and villains. If we speak about germs as if they are tiny villains we are attempting to fight, children have a mission to latch onto, a larger purpose that extends beyond just obeying their parents' instructions.

For example, you could personify the virus (and give your child a "mission") by saying, "Right now we are all working together to stop coronavirus from spreading. The good news is that germs can't jump very far! If we stay far away from people, then the germs can't jump from person to person and make us all sick."

2. "Here's what we can do."

When we speak to our kids about this new reality, it's important to be concrete and spell out the things that we cannot do in very clear terms, for example: "We have to stay far away from other people right now; we can't hug, or hold hands, or even go to each other's houses. What we can do is FaceTime, talk on the phone, write letters, and draw pictures we can send in the mail."

It's important to note the things we still can do in order to maintain strong connections with our loved ones. After all, physical distance is not the same as emotional distance, and many children can grasp that there are ways to feel very close to someone, while not being with them in the same space. Highlighting that, as well as providing opportunities for them to experience it (via FaceTime, Zoom chats and so on), will be critical.

3. "This is weird and different."

Children take comfort in knowing they are not alone in their emotional reactions. They are undoubtedly picking up on how strange things feel, how different things are now from the normal structure and routines of their daily lives. Pointing that out using simple language, and acknowledging that everyone is feeling the same will do a lot to regulate their emotional response.

4. "A lot of things are still the same."

When we acknowledge how different things feel right now, we also need to draw attention to things that are the same. This helps children recognize that there are still many parts of their lives that are familiar and recognizable. They still love Paw Patrol, or Frozen 2, or video games, they still get chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast on Saturdays, they still have to brush their teeth. And they're still just as loved as ever—in fact, even more.

5. "You are safe."

Children show their stress in different ways: throwing more tantrums, being more moody, irritable or defiant, or regressing in a particular area such as language or potty training. However your kids are showing that they're worried—or even if they are not yet—there is nothing more valuable than giving them a hug and letting them know you've got them and it's all going to be okay.

6. "There are so many grown-ups working together to help."

This is the famous wisdom from Mr. Rogers, that we need to look for the helpers in times of crisis. Talk to your children about the scientists working on finding the right medicines and vaccines, the doctors and other health care workers, the police and the supermarket stockers working hard to help us all.

7. "This stinks."

Because it really does. And our kids will benefit if we validate that rather than trying to deny it or always paint a rainbow on it. It stinks that the school play, or the sports season, or the birthday party is canceled. It stinks that it's about to get really nice out, and we can't all get together for a picnic. It stinks that we can't see Grandma and Grandpa. It stinks that we can't give our best friends hugs. It really, really does.

8. "But also, there's a bright side."

Reframing is not the same as invalidating. You cannot say that this spring break is going to be the best one ever without your kids seeing right through you. You can, however, point out the silver linings—and in fact, there are many. Look at how many crafts we can do! Look how much screen time you're getting! OMG, we get to watch a whole movie (or two, or five) on a weekday?

9. "We are all in this together."

Children—and grown-ups—feel more secure when they recognize that they are part of a larger community. For younger kids, it can be helpful to name everyone else who is staying home as part of social distancing: "No one is seeing anyone right now—not Grandma, not Grandpa, not Uncle Ben, not Aunt Alison, not your friends from school." For older kids, talking about the different cities, states, and countries undergoing this can be comforting: "10-year-olds in so many places aren't allowed to see their friends right now."

10. "We are taking this one day—sometimes even one hour—at a time."

Kids (and again, grown-ups too) will get overwhelmed if they start thinking about having to make these life adjustments for too long. Missing school, or their friends or Grandma and Grandpa, for the upcoming months can feel very overwhelming. Instead, focus on what is going to happen today, and on what we can do to stay in the present moment.

And remember that sometimes giving comfort isn't about having "the right words" at all—it's as simple as a really long, extra-tight cuddle.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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My husband and I always talked about starting a family a few years after we were married so we could truly enjoy the “newlywed” phase. But that was over before it started. I was pregnant on our wedding day. Surprise!

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