by Alix Tonsgard
Let’s talk about social distancing with toddlers. Spoiler alert: it’s really hard. It depends on a number of factors like context, temperament, age, development, and, for toddlers, their unpredictability in that the wind could blow the wrong direction and make their world fall apart. By now, we have had practically five months to practice social distancing and we continue to practice every single day.
We are really great at keeping our distance when we go for walks or to visit my parents, but, it turns out, adding other children to the equation is like letting him hold an ice cream cone but allowing him only one lick. Now imagine how you as an adult with a fully formed brain would feel in this situation. Some of you might have a lot of self-control, but self-control isn’t purely a learned behavior.
Impulse control, self-regulation, the ability to ignore distractions, these are all things that fall under the umbrella of executive functions skills that strengthen as a child’s brain develops. For two and three-year olds, these capacities are just beginning to form. Children need a lot of support in practicing them. Unfortunately, I don’t have a magical strategy for you. A lot of it depends on the child and the context on top of where they are developmentally. If friends are your child’s ice cream, they are going to need a lot of support in developing the capacity to resist the urge to hug them and keep their distance.
One thing that has helped us is talking about it. Every night before we read bedtime stories we talk about our day. Talking about friends and keeping our distance are recurring themes. If your child loves stories there are some excellent social stories online on this topic. Other children respond well to playing out the themes they are trying to master. Pretend play with stuffed animals, toy cars, other family members, or whatever they like most might be a helpful tool for mastering the idea.
Really, the most important thing is keep it simple, stay consistent, practice, and don’t forget to breathe. We will get through this. And, if you have a strategy that has worked wonders for you, share it here! I would love to hear about it.
Read the full blog at dupagechildrens.org/blog.
Alix Tonsgard is an early learning specialist at the DuPage Children’s Museum.