It is no secret that we are currently living in challenging unprecedented times. Parents and teachers around the country and the world as a whole are bracing to navigate the hardest school year to date. Thanks to COVID, parents are having to make tough decisions about how they want the next school year to look for their children.
A parent friend of mine recently called me in tears, “I had to change my schedule to work the night shift in order to be able to homeschool my two children during the day,” she said. The news is taking a toll on her and adjusting to the new schedule has affected her whole family. This is just one example of the reality that many parents around the country are currently living due to the COVID pandemic. Others face difficult decisions and finding new routines when it comes to daycare as well. No one planned on this pandemic, no one has the right answer or best strategy to navigate this new school year, we are all in this together learning to be resilient as we best know-how!
As the decision to return to school, homeschool, virtual school, or to even take a break from school depends on a case by case basis, this should remain a judgment-free choice.
However, the main goal for all of us parents is to ensure that our children stay safe and are well equipped to prevent the further spread of infections.
For those parents who are sending their children to school, the following safety tips will help children transition better and safely into the public environment.
COVID -19 Safety Tips
1. Talk to Your Children About What to Expect
It is important that children understand the reality of the world we are living in today. As many have spent summer with little to no contact with the outside world, it can be hard to imagine what to expect when they finally get to meet their friends. Parents should consult their children’s school to learn about the guidelines and responsibilities of children for the upcoming year. It is also important to remember to stay objective and avoid panic.
Parents should not use fear to get children to respect the safety guidelines set by the school, rather explain how their contribution is going to help fight this pandemic. A statement like “Remember to keep your mask on and talk to your friends from six feet away” at school drop off is better than “If you take off your mask you will catch the virus.”
It is also recommended to avoid overloading children with information that they may not be able to understand. Take into account the child’s developmental stage and how they absorb information. It is possible that as parents, you may have to repeat information regularly for children to adopt the habit of practicing set safety measures.
2.Practice Safety Measures at Home
Safety measures that are set to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include the major guidelines observed nationwide such as wearing masks in public, washing hands frequently, and keeping six feet distance from each other. In addition, your school may have specific ones set depending on their conditions and risks.
Parents should practice these safety measures at home before they send children to school. Take these practice opportunities to educate and redirect what the children may be having a hard time grasping. Parents should also take note of what strategies are reinforcing their children’s cooperation with practicing these safety measures and be able to communicate these tips to their children’s teachers at school.
Some children may be reluctant to get on board with the idea of practicing safety measures. One piece of advice from Erica Lee, a psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at Boston Children’s Hospital, is to help children feel more comfortable with the idea by making it into a fun game. One example she continues is to say, “Your mask gives you superpowers, so you want to make sure to keep it on all the time. And if you touch your face or touch someone else, that reduces your power.”
3.Give Children a Backup Supply of Personal Protective Equipment
Mornings during this school year are going to include interesting scenarios for many parents. From those free-minded little ones who are going to forget lunch and homework at the kitchen table, there is going to be that additional forgotten item that will require parents to make u-turns halfway to school drop-off: MASKS.
It will be a wise idea to pack an extra mask in the child’s backpack to prevent these oopsy moments! It may also be a good time to include a hand sanitizer in the backpack for those who will forget to wash hands until they have already eaten! Parents, you know that happens all the time! I would advise parents to go as far as having an extra supply of everyone’s mask, hand sanitizer, and those antibacterial wipes in the car just to be sure. Well, I am a mom, overpacking is what I do!
4.Only the Minimum Necessary Supplies to School
Speaking of overpacking, this year is going to be the opposite of that! This is because unnecessary items in the child’s school bag represent additional risks to collect and spread COVID germs. Parents should ensure that children are packing only the minimum supply necessary for every specific day. It is also an opportunity to ensure that the child has all they need to avoid needing to share school items with their friends or teachers. For schools that may provide the option of virtual books, downloading the book to the child’s electronic device can help minimize the risk of sharing items, overloading their backpack, or forgetting the book on the day it may be needed.
5.Check Up on the Children’s Mental Health Regularly
It is not a secret that parents and teachers are overwhelmed with the changes already and it is important to remember that the same stress can affect children as they adjust to the new school year. It is important to prioritize children’s mental health through this process.
Parents should observe, talk, and listen to their children about any concerns and questions about COVID during this transition. Welcome questions from children and respond to them accurately or research the answers together. Take the extra time to talk to children about their days at school, the challenges they faced, and the progress of the adjustment. Make note of any sign of anxiety that can be caused by all the changes going on in a child’s life such as increased separation anxiety, increased fear, and worry about school or their daily activities.
As Courtney Keeton, a Johns Hopkins Children’s Center psychologist who specializes in the treatment of childhood anxiety and selective mutism recommends, “Anxiety symptoms that persist beyond the first few weeks of school and that seem excessive may require consultation with an expert.”