How To Talk To Fellow Parents About Social Distancing, According To Experts
As lockdown restrictions around the country ease, the opportunity to socialize with others outside of your immediate household may arise sooner than you think. If you're ready to get together with another family, but want to maintain a safe distance, how do you ask friends with kids about social distancing? You obviously don't want to hurt their feelings if your philosophies on the subject don't line up, so knowing how to breach the subject can be tricky.
"It's important to be honest and direct, but in a friendly manner," parenting expert Reena B. Patel, educational psychologist and behavior analyst, tells Romper. "You do not want to assume other parents are not following health and safety guidelines."
Where I live in Texas, we now have some of the most lax coronavirus restrictions in the United States, which means many of my friends with kids have already thrown social distancing out of the window. Barbecues, pool parties, and beach trips have included members of other families, but that doesn't mean everyone is comfortable socializing without practicing social distancing.
When your friends inquire about a post-pandemic get together, it's important to have your own mind made up about where you want to draw the line. I am so ready for some interaction with people outside of my household, and I know my kids are ready to see their friends, but it’s hard to know exactly what the expectations are unless you talk about it.
"Create a dialogue around how your friends and their children have been doing during this time, and areas they have and haven’t struggled with complying with health guidelines," Jason Woodrum, a certified social worker and therapist at New Method Wellness tells Romper. "If they are short on details, speak to your own practices and ask them how they have been dealing with, for example, maintaining proper social distances in various social situations. The key in this is making it as conversational as possible, and non-interrogatory."
While so many are ready to scratch the itch of gathering with friends again, it is extra hard to make sure that kids continue to practice social distancing when they're around other children — especially if the other children involved aren't abiding by the 6-foot rule.
"It is difficult to be as bold as asking someone if their kids know how to practice social distancing," child and adolescent family therapist Darby Fox tells Romper. "It is more reasonable to be very clear with your own children about social distancing and how they must practice it with their friends — no hugging or touching and keeping 6 feet apart."
Patel explains that parents can have their own children practice what staying 6 feet away from someone looks like by using a rope with knots tied in it and encouraging them to still wave and talk to their friends from a safe distance. "Consider their developmental age when explaining what social distancing is. Validate what they are feeling," Patel tells Romper. "Make sure they are aware this is not their fault and this protection is in place to help everyone stay healthy."
Another key point to keep in mind when considering how you want to handle get togethers with other families is that there are no wrong decisions when you make it with your family's best interest in mind. Fox tells Romper, "It's easy to explain your family is being extra careful because a family member is compromised."
Regardless of your reasoning, what is right for you may not be right for another family and that is completely OK. Explaining yourself isn't necessary, but to help ease tensions that may arise, you can discuss any differences of opinion in a constructive way.
"Discuss how there is no wrong way in going about this challenging time, and comfortably and non-judgmentally discuss what your own response and effective protective action requires during the pandemic," Woodrum tells Romper. "Starting from a place of honoring their position allows you to articulate the difference in your own."
So many factors play into the decision to continue practicing social distancing, even when others aren't. Maybe you have someone in your home in an at-risk group or perhaps you work on the frontlines and don't want to expose anyone else. Ultimately, if you aren't ready to take the step of socializing with others at this point, your friends should understand and be supportive of your decision.
"Continue to offer to schedule time to connect as families over Zoom, as well as opportunities to say hi from an effective social distance," Woodrum says. "Finally, always discuss how much you are looking forward to this time ending and connecting in the traditional ways we all yearn for."
Parenting expert, guidance counselor, licensed educational psychologist, and board-certified behavior analyst Reena B. Patel, LEP, BCBA
Jason Woodrum, ACSW, therapist at New Method Wellness
Darby Fox, child and adolescent family therapist practicing in New York