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Changes to physical distancing for children

We know it’s been a long and sometimes difficult journey so far, and children will have found it especially hard without spending time with their friends in the same way they used to. Any new changes to restrictions are made based on the latest scientific evidence, and made to help keep us safe. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been tough and hard to understand for many children.

Although we are all now more restricted in the number of people we can meet up with and where we can meet them, there is more leeway for children under 12. This is to help children’s emotional wellbeing by making it easier for them to spend time with their friends. It is also because children are less likely to spread the disease.

We can now only meet up outside or in public places (like a café) in groups of up to 6 people from 2 households. We should not meet in homes.

What are the rules for under 12s?

Children under 12 don’t count towards the 6 people allowed to meet up at once. When you are meeting outside, they also don’t count towards the number of households. This means you can let them play with their friends at the play park as long as there are no more than 6 people over 12 present from 2 households. Like everyone else, they also shouldn’t go into other homes at the moment. There are some exceptions for shared parenting and informal childcare.
Children under 12 do not need to keep 2 metres from each other when playing together either. In addition, they do not need to keep 2 metres apart from older children or adults. If the older children and adults in this group are in the increased risk category (that is, are over 70, pregnant or receive the flu jab annually for medical reasons) they should be extra careful about following hygiene measures such as handwashing.

In some circumstances (for example, when taking part in organised activities) they will need to keep 2 metres apart, to ensure everyone stays safe.

What are the rules for children aged 12-17?

If your children are aged 12-17 , the rules are different. This is because older children have a greater risk of transmission of the virus than younger children – that is, they are more likely to pass the virus onto others. Children aged 12 and over still need to maintain physical distancing.

Children aged 12-17 can meet outside in groups of up to 6 children from 6 households. Our page on meeting up with other households has more information.

The virus is spreading more rapidly so it is vital to make sure you encourage everyone in the family to keep up good hygiene practice and try to limit the number of households they meet each day.


To help you understand what these changes means for you and your family, we've put together a handy list of FAQs to help you out.

Why are there different guidelines for children over the age of 12?

Scientific research suggests that children aged 11 and under seem to be at a lower risk of catching and passing on the virus, which is why some restrictions are different for this age group. However, good hygiene practice is really important and they should still make sure to wash their hands regularly and not touch surfaces.

We know this will be difficult for children aged 12 and over, but they are still considered to have a higher risk of catching and passing on the virus, so must continue to follow the same physical distancing measures as adults and need to stay 2 metres apart from every outside their household or extended household.

My child is 12, but their friends are younger, can they still play together?

Yes, but the rules are slightly different for those aged 12-17. They can meet up together outside in groups of up to 6 children of any age, from up to 6 households.  So, for example a 12 year old could only meet up to 5 of their friends outside, regardless of whether their friends are aged 11, 12 or 13. However, if anyone aged 18 or older is also in the group (or they are meeting inside in a public place like a cafe) they must follow the limit of 6 people from 2 households.

Can children meet up in public places indoors?

Yes. Children can meet up indoors in public places with one other household, in a group of up to six peoples. Under 12 don’t count towards the limit of 6 people, but children over 12 do.

Does this mean that children are now able to play indoors together or have sleepovers?

No, as you can't go into other people’s homes, your child should not be having a sleepover with a friend. However, in some limited situations where you rely on another household for informal childcare, your child may stay the night over in another household. Our guide on childcare has more information. The rules on shared parenting are unchanged, so if you share parenting then your child can continue to move between homes as usual. Our page on shared parenting has more information

I have a child over the age of 12 with a learning disability who normally plays with younger children, is this ok?

Children with learning disabilities should follow the physical distancing guidelines appropriate to their physical age where possible. 

I have a child under 12 but someone in our household has been shielding, is my child still allowed to play with others outdoors?

Yes. On 1 August, shielding was paused altogether, so people who were shielding can now follow the same rules as everyone else, provided they feel comfortable doing so. However the scientific evidence will be continually monitored to keep people as safe as possible. It’s still important to strictly follow physical distancing and hygiene measures. You can find out more about shielding at the website

I have children from both age groups, how am I supposed to get them to follow different rules when we are out together?

We know that this will be difficult to follow and will be particularly difficult for children aged 12 or older if they are seeing younger siblings being able to play with their friends without physically distancing. Talk to your older children and explain to them why it is so important that they follow physical distancing rules. It may help them to know that, while they are unlikely to get seriously ill themselves, children ages 12 and older are at higher risk of passing on the virus to other people.

Do I have to know the children my kids are playing with or can they mix with any other children, for example, at a park?

At a play park your child may end up playing with children they don’t know. While this is okay, it’s best for them to try to stick to playing with children they know and it is important to follow good hygiene practice.  If you feel the play park is too crowded, it is best to either wait until it is less busy or avoid it for the time being.

If my child is playing with children they don’t know at the park, do I need to get their parents' details?

No, this won’t be necessary. However, while it’s ok for children to play with other kids they don’t know at the play park, it’s best for them to try to stick to playing with children they know and follow good hygiene practice.

Are my children allowed to share their toys?

Children under 12 can share toys and play equipment but must continue with current hygiene measures when possible. It’s very important when looking after children to encourage them to wash their hands and not touch surfaces. 

Are children now able to share food or eat together?

As with adults, children of any age can eat together, but they shouldn’t share food or utensils. If eating together, each household should prepare food separately.

If children under 12 can now share toys, can they use our trampoline or slide in the garden?

Yes, children can share play equipment such as trampolines and slides, but it’s important to keep them clean and make sure the kids wash their hands before and after using the equipment.

If my children are not staying 2 metres from their friends, why do I have to stay 2 metres from my parents/friends?

Children ages 12 and over and adults are considered to be at higher risk of catching and passing on the virus than children aged 11 and under. This is why it’s important for everyone aged 12 and above to continue to maintain current physical distancing measures. 

We know that this will be difficult, but it is for the safety of everyone until there is further progress in suppressing the virus.

Is hand washing still important, and what else can I do to stay safe?

Hand washing is still incredibly important and maintaining good hygiene practices should remain a priority. When looking after children, encourage them to wash their hands and not to touch surfaces and remember the need for physical distancing from other groups of children and adults.

If my children can play with other children, does that mean I can look after my friends' children?

Only if another household relies on you for informal childcare. If they do, you can still look after their child or children. Our page on childcare has more information.

If children are having a playdate in the garden, is it ok for them use the toilet?

If kids are playing in another household’s garden they can go in to the house to use the toilet. They should avoid touching surfaces with their hands as much as possible. They should also wipe any surfaces they touch with antibacterial wipes, wash their hands thoroughly, dry their hands with a freshly laundered towel or a paper towel and dispose of it in a closed bin. We understand this may be a lot to ask for under 12s, so you may want to go with them.

If members of another household are going to visit you and might need to use your toilet, you should ensure appropriate cleaning materials are available. You should also provide either a hand towel for each visiting household or paper towels and a safe disposal option.

Can children under 12 hug each other? Can they hug their grandparents, aunties and other adults?

Technically, yes – as children under 12 don’t need to physically distance, they can hug their friends and other adults. However, to be on the safe side it’s best not to encourage hugging or any other extended contact, such as holding hands, at this stage.  

My child's been shielding, can they meet up with other people?

Yes. On 1 August, shielding was paused altogether, so people who were shielding can now follow the same rules as everyone else, provided they feel comfortable doing so. However, to stay safe, it’s important to strictly follow physical distancing and hygiene measures. You can find a guide to how safe different activities here, so you can make an informed decision. You can also get advice on how to stay safe doing different activities here. You can find out more about shielding at the website.