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Removing distancing rules for young children will improve mental health, parents say

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The decision to remove physical distancing for younger children will help to reduce isolation, according to parents, campaigners and charity workers.

Children aged 11 and under will be able to play with their friends outdoors without keeping their distance, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced.

She said the changes would make life a “little bit more fun” for children and young people over the summer holidays.

However teenagers will still have to follow the two metre rule but will be able to meet in groups of eight or less.

“Lockdown has had a massive impact on young people’s mental health so I hope being able to socialise with friends and enjoy themselves will be a great boost for them.”

Estelle Coulthard, Home-start Dundee

Robert Garnish, a father-of-two from Perth, said his daughter would be able to see her friends before they enter high school in August.

He said: “The First Minister’s announcement today is a pragmatic decision and a really welcome one, particularly in light of the summer holidays being upon us.

“My eldest daughter, 11, has not been able to spend any time with her school mates as they finish their primary school journey and this change should now make it possible for classmates to get together in the coming days to celebrate the end of P7.

“It also recognises that physical distancing for younger children is so tricky to manage – they don’t always understand the reasons why distancing is important and so this is one less thing to have to worry about when in social situations.”

Jacqui Hardie, who works with lone parent families at Fife Gingerbread, said it would be a “huge relief” for parents to let their children play with friends.

Jacqui Hardie, of Fife Gingerbread.

She said: “Children have been so isolated up until now, especially those with no siblings, so this will make a huge difference to them.

“It’s been a really tough time and we have been doing our best by providing a lot of online support and giving families ideas for activities at home, but it doesn’t beat that interaction of bairns going out and playing with their pals.

“This is especially going to help them going back to school as well, it’s not going to be such a shock. They will get used to playing with other children again.”

A mum herself, Jacqui, the charity’s executive strategic manager, has experienced the frustration and tantrums of children in lockdown and said many youngsters had regressed.

She said: “At this time of life kids want to form relationships. They have been so resilient I really think we should have a clap for kids!”

That is a view also taken by Estelle Coulthard, who works with vulnerable families in Dundee.

Estelle Coulthard.

She said: “Families that we work with at Home-start have been desperate for this type of announcement – it’s a step in the right direction.

“Lockdown has had a massive impact on young people’s mental health so I hope being able to socialise with friends and enjoy themselves will be a great boost for them.

“Many families we work with are very vulnerable and live in high-rise flats across the city with very little outdoors space so for them to be able to go outside and play with their friends will be a huge deal.”

However Estelle, a mother to an eight-year-old boy, said there has to be more activities in place to support children outdoors.

She added: “For a lot of children, going outside again and socialising when they haven’t had to for so long, will be very scary.

“We must make sure there are plenty of activities to help them through this confusing period.”

Relaxing physical distancing for young children will also help them transition back to school, according to parent campaign group 50:50inschool.

Parents from across Tayside and Fife back the campaign. A spokesperson said: “We know that this will be a huge relief for many parents and carers across Scotland.

“Young people are craving a sense of normalcy and they need to see their friends.

“Many have been isolated for a long time and this will help ease that transition to being around their friends before they go back to school in August.”

Dundee City Council children and families services convener Stewart Hunter.

The announcement has also been welcomed by Dundee City Council’s children and families convener Stewart Hunter.

He said: “The announcement from the First Minister is encouraging and welcome. I know there will be a lot of families and young people who will be pleased with this news.

“The last few months has been a tough time for everyone especially young people. Hopefully, this announcement will really help them.”

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