Back to School During COVID-19: How to Keep Your Kids Safe
How Should I Prepare My Child to Return to the School Setting?
Experts agree that children learn best when they attend school in person. In addition to academics, such as math, reading and science, students learn social and emotional skills and receive mental health and behavioral services in school. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new challenges for the upcoming school year.
Many families wonder how they can prepare their children for a school setting during the pandemic. We sat down with Dr. Jennifer Snow, medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit and department chair of pediatrics at the Spence and Becky Wilson Baptist Children’s Hospital, to discuss how you can help prepare your children for the classroom.
Be Honest in the Face of Uncertainty
“The pandemic is fluid and dynamic,” said Snow. “It is constantly changing and generating uncertainty. Uncertainty creates stress for children and parents. It’s important to stay honest and realistic with children about the changes they will face.”
No matter what form learning takes this year, acknowledge that schedules and routines may shift, but this won’t last forever.
“Be honest,” said Snow. “Let children know why we’re asking them to wear masks and practice social distancing. Explain the importance of handwashing, especially during a pandemic. We use precautions to keep ourselves and others safe from illness.”
Snow also recommends modeling positivity for children who return to the classroom.
“Children are observant, and they tend to mirror their parents’ emotions,” said Snow. “Talk calmly about what they can expect. We sometimes underestimate kids. They are quite resilient and adaptable, especially if they receive positive reinforcement. Help them focus on what they can control instead of what they cannot control.”
Practice New Routines
Before school starts, help your child practice wearing a mask for long periods of time.
“Start small by setting a timer or playing a song,” said Snow. “Gradually increase the time they wear their mask to get them accustomed to wearing it all day at school. Make it fun for younger kids. Even older kids like to dress up. Get them a mask with their favorite superhero. Make it seem like a costume or a prop.”
Snow recommends wearing your own mask for the same amount of time to model the behavior you expect from your child.
Reinforce Safety Measures
“Teach children how to wash their hands for an appropriate length of time—at least 20 seconds,” said Snow. “Encourage handwashing after school, before they eat and when they use the restroom. Instead of high fives or holding hands, invent a fun, new greeting your child can do while remaining socially distanced.”
Some may wonder how to prevent young children from sharing their masks with others. Again, Snow recommends positive reinforcement.
“Just like you don’t share forks and spoons, you don’t share masks,” said Snow. “Remind children that their mask is for their face only. Teachers will help make sure children do not remove masks or switch with friends.”
Learn About School Protocols
Schools are implementing strict guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Most schools have already released guidelines that define in-person, virtual or hybrid learning environments for students and teachers.
“As you prepare your child for in-person learning, you may have questions for teachers and school administrators,” said Snow. “What are the masking guidelines? How will teachers reinforce social distancing? How will staff serve lunch at school in a safe and socially distanced manner? Ask questions if your child’s school hasn’t already communicated its approach and procedures.”
Parents can also make sure they understand the notification process if someone at school tests positive for COVID-19.
“Schools create specific quarantine and isolation precautions for people who test positive, as well as those who may have been exposed to the virus,” said Snow. “If you don’t already know the notification process, ask the school what that process looks like.”
Returning to school during the COVID-19 pandemic will require collaboration and support between schools, parents, students and health care professionals to make the learning environment as safe as possible. However, a surge in positive virus cases could result in school closures.
“Some schools have already opened and closed,” said Snow. “Be prepared. Try to create a backup plan in case your child needs to learn at home.”