Physical Distance vs. Social Distance—Good Parenting


Dear Dr. Debbie,

My nine-year-old is pouting about my strict policy of not getting together with any friends while school is closed for the COVID-19 emergency.

Fortunately I can telecommute and had plenty of time to stock up on household supplies in the days before the announcement. So we don’t need to go anywhere. But she’s already lamenting about missing her friends. Meanwhile, the six-year-old is blissfully playing with her dolls and the three-year-old is asking for another snack.

Family Social Director

Dear F.S.D.,

School is closed for a very important reason. This virus spreads quickly, partly because someone who is infected may have no symptoms for up to fourteen days. According to the CDC, while people are most contagious when displaying the symptoms of cough, fever and shortness of breath, they can still be contagious when showing no symptoms. The only way to slow down the epidemic, and prevent hospitals from systemic collapse, is to avoid person-to-person contact. We must avoid touching what other people have touched, but mostly avoid breathing in each other’s expelled respiratory droplets from sneezes and coughs by keeping the suggested six feet away at all times.

Sadly, this means children should not be around their friends (who have been around their parents who have been around who knows how many other adults who’ve been around who knows how many other people in the past two weeks). No school. No scout meetings. No sports practices. No parties. No sleepovers. No play dates.

And while the illness has not been seen to be a big threat to children, they can carry the disease to more vulnerable populations such as older adults and anyone with a compromised immune system, respiratory challenges (such as asthma), and other health issues. School closure protects teachers and other school personnel as well as school volunteers and all the other people with whom these people come in contact.

You can, however, safely venture out for activities that don’t tempt person-to-person contact. Due to the current state of emergency, Anne Arundel County has temporarily removed the parking fee for county parks. Or venture further away for a family hike to get some fresh air, sunshine, and exercise. What you’re looking for are wide open spaces – in which there’s no chance of being within 6 feet of someone outside your immediate family.

Keep up your vigilance about handwashing / sanitizing if your children come upon a playground with climbers, slides, and swings, since, according to Dr. Asaf Bitton,  executive director of Ariadne Labs, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “There is evidence corona viruses can live on plastic and metal for up to nine days.” So maybe skip the playground. 

Your nine-year-old can keep up her connections to her friends in ways other than physical contact. Telephoning, FaceTiming, texting (with lots of emojis), emailing, and good old-fashioned letter writing will let them share their day-to-day experiences, tell jokes, and plan ahead for what they will do when they can be in the same place at the same time. Actual face-to-face meetings (between friends, co-workers, the general public) pose risks to us all. 

Continue your stance against hanging with friends during this unusual situation. In person get-togethers between children are just too risky.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist with degrees in Early Childhood Education, Counseling, and Human Development. Workshops for parents, teachers, and childcare professionals can be found at:

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]



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