Ask Miriam | Social Distancing Still a Complicated Subject

People standing waiting in line far apart to maintain social distance distancing during covid-19 coronavirus outbreak with mark cross signs on sidewalk pavement by grocery food store shop shopping
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Dear Miriam,

How should one respond when they witness others (like neighbors, for example) not social distancing? And how should parents respond to their kids when their kids have to negotiate other families’ different social distancing rules?


Different About Distancing


Dear Distancing,

I actually received this question several weeks ago, but as we inch toward “yellow,” this question has only become more complicated. There has been a definitiveness to the mandates to stay six feet away, stay home except for essential reasons to go out and to stay with the people who live in your household. Obviously, not everyone has stuck to these, but the ambiguities are only about to get more confusing.

If you see your neighbors not social distancing, you should silently re-up your commitment to your own social distancing standards and leave it at that. People know what they’re supposed to be doing, and a reminder from a neighbor isn’t likely to change their behavior regarding virus prevention, but it may negatively change their behavior toward you. You may find it difficult to look away, but, since you asked, my recommendation is that you try. 

There may be some exceptions. If you see neighbors consistently without masks, you may find it possible, depending on your relationship, to offer to give them an extra or to suggest where masks are available locally. If groups of neighbors are outside your home causing a lot of noise, you may find it possible to ask them to keep it down given that we are still under stay-at-home orders. If you are uncomfortable with how close someone gets to you personally, pandemic or not, you are always in the right to say, “Please give me some more personal space.” 

All of the rules of social distancing are new to both kids and adults. There can be a lot of interpretation in how rules are being followed, and it’s genuinely confusing. Teenagers who are used to more independence are likely having a harder time being told to stay at home and away from their friends. Younger kids with a lack of appropriate boundaries may simply not be able to follow through on giving people six feet of distance outside the home and not understanding how to interact with their friends without touching them. 

But ultimately kids navigate families having different rules all the time — about what food they eat, about curfews, about what age they can cross the street independently, just to name a few. Kids already know that families have different rules, and though they may not understand why, they don’t need to know how other families come to their personal sets of decisions.

What kids need to know is that 1) these are the rules for your family, 2) you’ve made these choices based on the best information you have, 3) you know this is hard, and you’ll be available to listen to how they’re feeling.

As we move into yellow, whenever that is, some kids will be going back to day care or to camp, and some will still be home with their families. Some families will go visit grandparents, while others will consider that an unacceptable risk.

We will, I expect, start to see an even greater variation in how families are interpreting this next phase, and open communication with your kids about your family’s decision-making process will be crucial to getting their cooperation and buy-in. But no one expects this summer to be easy, and it’s reasonable and compassionate to communicate to your children that we are all facing difficult decisions with no easy answers.

Be well,



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