Physical distancing: what does it mean?
People in your area might be asked to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Staying at home is part of physical distancing. This article uses the term ‘physical distancing’ to include staying at home, keeping your distance from others if you need to go out, and taking any other measures required by state and territory health departments.
If you and your children are physical distancing, you’re helping to reduce your family’s risk of getting COVID-19. You’re also helping to protect your friends, your extended family and your community from the spread of COVID-19.
Physical distancing is sometimes called social distancing.
Physical distancing during COVID-19: what it might mean for your family
Physical distancing and staying at home means more time with your family. If you’re working, it might mean that you’re balancing supervision of children’s learning, family time and work commitments. And if you have autistic children or children with disability or other conditions, you might also be:
- helping children deal with anxiety about COVID-19 and physical distancing
- looking after more daily care needs, if your regular carers or respite services are no longer available
- trying to give children more one-on-one support for learning
- feeling concerned about meeting the needs of all your children.
There are things you can do to help your family manage in this situation:
- talking through anxiety
- using routines
- getting organised with learning support
- balancing the needs of all children
- looking after yourself.
By making the most of family time, using routines, staying connected and managing conflict constructively, you can make this situation as positive as possible. Our article on family wellbeing during COVID-19 has tips that you can adapt for your whole family.
Talking about physical distancing with children and teenagers with disability
If your child has a disability, they might be anxious about getting COVID-19, getting sicker or having complications because of the virus. Children and teenagers with disability are more likely than their peers to experience anxiety.
Talking can help children with disability experiencing anxiety and teenagers with disability experiencing anxiety. In particular, you can support your child by acknowledging their worries or anxieties and listening actively when your child wants to talk. It’s also important to give your child developmentally appropriate and reliable information about how COVID-19 might affect them and their health condition.
It’s a good idea to seek advice from your GP or specialist about whether your child has a higher risk of getting COVID-19 and what extra precautions you and your child might need to take.
Children and teenagers are likely to have many and mixed feelings about how COVID-19 has affected their lives. Talking with children about physical distancing and talking with teenagers about physical distancing can help them work through feelings and cope with the situation.
Using routines to manage physical distancing with children and teenagers with disability
By using routines, you can create an organised and predictable home environment. This helps children of all ages and abilities feel safe and secure, especially when things are stressful or when children are going through difficult experiences like physical distancing.
While you’re all at home together, you might need to adapt routines to suit the changes in your family’s life. For example, if you’re now responsible for more of your child’s daily care needs, procedures or medications, some changes to your daily routine might make it easier for you and your child to remember and manage these extra responsibilities.
You can help your child with disability cope with changes to your family life and routines by using aids like the following or by adapting your existing aids:
- Social stories: for example, you could have a story for hand-washing, which covers when to wash hands and the steps to follow, like turning on the tap, wetting hands, putting on soap, rubbing hands with soap, and rinsing and drying hands.
- Visual supports: for example, you could have a visual support that shows your new morning routine, with pictures of getting out of bed, getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, sitting at the table to start school, and signing into an online classroom.
Routines can be good for you too. If your child’s needs mean you now have extra responsibilities, routines can help you and other family members divide chores so that you have time to manage these responsibilities. You can also use routines to make time for fun family activities like games nights or reading together. Activities like these can help you all stay positive during physical distancing.
Supporting learning for students with disability while staying at home
Students with disability have the right to keep learning during COVID-19 and physical distancing. Also, schools have an obligation to make learning accessible for all students, including students with disability.
Here are some suggestions that can help you support your child’s learning.
This is about understanding how your child’s school is delivering learning and support to all students, including children with disability. For example, you can check:
- which online platform or platforms the school is using
- what resources your child’s teachers, school or education department are providing
- when the school expects students to do their learning and whether there’s any flexibility
- how the school expects students to do learning tasks, track progress, submit tasks and so on
- who to ask for help if you’re not sure how the system works.
Consider and negotiate adjustments
This is about considering how the school’s plans and systems for delivering learning will suit your child’s learning style and needs. For example, you can check:
- whether the school’s learning platform and the way it delivers learning is accessible for your child
- whether learning materials are accessible for your child
- how teaching and instruction methods can be adapted for your child’s needs
- how any learning aids and other supports that your child uses at school can be adapted for home use
- whether your child needs more flexible arrangements to learn with different or fewer supports at home
- who you can contact at the school to discuss accessibility and flexibility for your child.
If you’re not sure about or satisfied with the current arrangements, you might need to be an advocate for your child. You can work with the school on adjustments that will help your child get the most out of learning at home.
Aim for a daily routine
Learning at home will probably run more smoothly if you aim for a daily routine – but remember that it’s OK if you don’t follow the routine exactly. For example, you can think about:
- whether the usual school timetable will work or whether a simpler timetable might be better for learning at home
- how you can convert whatever routine you decide on into a visual timetable for the day
- how to break up the day, alternating chunks of learning with regular breaks
- how to introduce some fun into the day – for example, you could mark the end of each day with an activity that your child enjoys.
It’s a good idea to make a regular time each day to check in with your child about how things are going, what you’re all enjoying, and whether there’s anything that you or your child needs to change.
Communicate regularly with the school
You might already have regular emails, phone calls or meetings with your child’s classroom teacher, home-room teacher, year coordinator, learning support coordinator or student welfare coordinator.
This regular contact will be even more important while staying at home, so you, your child and teachers can keep on top of learning tasks and assignments, as well as your child’s general wellbeing. But you might need to check on the best way to keep this communication going.
For example, you might need to:
- contact each teacher and request copies of lesson plans, assignments and so on
- make regular times to check in with teachers about how your child is going
- talk with teachers about what’s working well and what might need to change.
You might also need to ask for a meeting with all the relevant school staff to discuss your child’s overall learning and progress. At this meeting, you can look at how your child’s individual learning plan might need to be adjusted to ensure your child keeps meeting learning goals while staying at home.
Helping children learn at home is different from teaching children at school. You’re not expected to do what teachers do. You can only do your best to support your child’s learning at home, and remember that it’s OK to ask for as much help as you and your child need.
Balancing the needs of all your children during physical distancing
The siblings of children with disability are likely to have many and mixed feelings about staying at home because of COVID-19. They also have learning and other needs. And they need to feel that they’re just as important to you as your child with disability – that you care about them and what they’re going through too.
This means you might need to think about how to support siblings of children with disability during this time. Here are some tips:
- Talk with your typically developing children about their feelings about physical distancing and being at home with the family.
- When you see your typically developing children handling the situation well, give them plenty of praise.
- Try to make time for each child. This could be as simple as walking around the block, reading, cooking or playing a card game together.
- Keep an eye on how many and what kind of extra responsibilities your typically developing children are taking on while you’re all at home together.
Some children might need extra support during this time. If your children need to talk to someone, they can call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, Youth Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, and eheadspace on 1800 650 890.
Looking after yourself during physical distancing
Caring for children during physical distancing is a big and important job. It’s easy to get caught up in looking after all your children’s needs, especially if you’re getting less support or your respite services aren’t available at the moment.
If you’re still working, you could consider talking with your employer about family-friendly work options to get you through this period.
It’s also good to make some time for things you enjoy, like exercising, reading, or staying in touch with friends on the phone or online. This can help you relax and feel better if you’re experiencing stress, anxiety or anger.
Seeking support for yourself is good for you and good for your children. If you need support, phone your GP. They might offer phone consultations. You can also call your state or territory parenting helpline, Lifeline on 131 114, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, or the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).