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Coronavirus guidelines for children

We know it’s been a long and sometimes difficult journey so far. 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. 

As you may know, the number of households you and your children can meet with and where you can meet them now depends on the COVID-19 protection level your area is in. You can find out which level you’re in using the checker here.

However, you’ll notice that the rules don’t change much for children between levels. This is to help make it easier for them to spend time with their friends and support their emotional wellbeing.

This drop-down menu outlines the guidelines and we have more information below. The rules are regularly under review and might change so we’ll keep this page updated. 

What are the rules for under 12s?

Whatever level your area is in, children under 12 don’t count towards the number of people who can meet up. Outdoors, they don’t count towards the number of households that can meet either. Indoors, they do count towards the number of households.

At all levels, 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 may need to keep 2 metres apart. This is to keep everyone 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 are more likely to pass the virus onto others than younger children. Children aged 12 and over still need to maintain physical distancing.

Level 0

In level 0 areas, young people aged 12-17 can meet in groups of 8 people from 3 different households indoors. Outdoors, up to 8 young people aged 12-17 can meet in groups outdoors and they can be from up to 8 different households. However, if anyone younger than 12 or older than 17 is also in the group, they must follow the limit of 15 people from 5 households outdoors. 12-17 year olds must follow physical distancing guidelines, which means staying 2 metres from each other.

Level 1

In level 1, up to 6 children aged 12-17 from 2 households can meet indoors in public places such as cafés, but they can’t meet up in private homes. The only exception to this is for people living in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles, who can meet up to 6 people from one other household inside their homes. You can read more about this on the Scottish Government website.

Children aged 12-17 can also meet outside in groups of up to 8 children from 8 households. However, if anyone in the group is younger than 12 or older than 18, they must follow the rule of 8 people from 3 households.

Levels 2-4

If you’re in levels 2-4, you can’t meet up in private homes. However, up to 6 children aged 12-17 from 2 households can meet indoors in public places such as cafés. 12-17 year olds can also meet outside in groups of up to 6 children from 6 households. However, if anyone younger than 12 or older than 17 is also in the group, they must follow the limit of 6 people from 2 households. Our page on meeting up with other households has more information.

FAQs

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?

Current scientific evidence 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 to stay safe they must continue to follow the same physical distancing measures as adults and need to stay 2 metres apart from everyone 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.  However, if anyone younger than 12 or older than 17 is also in the group (or they are meeting inside in a public place like a café) 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 as long as they follow the level guidelines for the area you’re in.

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

Unless you are in level 0 or in Orkney, Shetland or the Western Isles in level 1, you can't go into other people’s homes, so 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 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. 

What if my child or someone in our household has been shielding?

At the beginning of the pandemic, people who are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus were advised to shield, to minimise the chance of catching the virus. Shielding was paused from 1 August. However, the Scottish Government is advising people who were shielding to take extra precautions. You can find out more about this at the Scottish Government website.

Therefore although your child can still play with others you should be extra careful around hygiene, to ensure everyone stays safe. If your child has been shielding and you live in a level 3 or 4 area it’s a good idea to minimise the amount of contact they have with others where possible.

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, they can still pass 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?

Older children and adults are considered to be at higher risk of catching and passing on the virus than younger children. This is why it’s important for everyone to continue to maintain current physical distancing measures where appropriate. 

We know that this is difficult, but it is for the safety of everyone to continue to supress 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?

The rules around informal childcare depend on the level your area is in. 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 you live in an area under level 1-4 restrictions, children from other households aren’t allowed into your home to play (unless you are in Orkney, Shetland or the Western Isles in level 1). However, 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.