As children across North Texas get ready to head back to school, whether in person or virtually, they may have a number of concerns and fears.
“The topic of going back to school during the pandemic is definitely one that causes stress for parents and kids,” says Jenny Moeller, a Certified Child Life Specialist at Medical City Children's Hospital in Dallas. “You can start by keeping open and honest communication with your children.”
Moeller suggests these strategies for talking to your kids about COVID-19 and school:
- Listen first: Find out what children really understand about the virus and what it means to go back to school or stay home from school.
- Address misconceptions: Use age-appropriate, child-friendly language to explain the facts in concrete terms.
- Get kids to talk: Prompt a discussion by asking kids what they liked best about school before COVID so you can address any concerns they may have about how those things might be different this year.
- Reassure them: Let kids know that everyone—parents, teachers and their community—are trying to come together to figure out the safest way to help kids learn and see their friends.
“Kids will react to these new emotions and fears in different ways,” Moeller says. “If you notice that they’re acting out more or they’re scared or having nightmares more often, it’s time to sit down and have that communication with them.”
But you don’t have to do it alone.
“If you feel like your child is having trouble coping with the pandemic, it’s never too soon to ask for help from the community or your child’s school,” says Moeller. “These are the ways that we take care of our kids during these times.”
Helping kids cope with change.
In order to bring kids back safely, schools and districts may take different steps to lower the risk of spreading the virus. One thing you can count on: Everyone can expect to see some changes. The sooner you can find out from your child’s school what changes they are making and discuss those with your child, the better. Here are some of the changes you might see based on recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Physical distancing measures, such as staggered schedules/drop-offs/pick-ups, use of alternate transportation to school buses if possible and eating lunches at desks or outside instead of in crowded cafeterias
- Use of cloth face coverings. If your child will be required to wear a mask, consider having them practice wearing one for increasing periods each day at home. Also, be sure to find out:
- Where and when they must be worn
- If masks will be provided or if kids will be required to have their own—and if the school will have extras if masks are forgotten or lost
Parents can help kids prepare for changes like these by discussing them together and actively practicing and role-playing what they might do in different situations. The main thing to remember is to stay positive.
“Kids look to their parents to assess their security in different situations,” Moeller says. “How parents react might give them a sense of how they should be feeling. When you sit down to talk with your child, it’s helpful to be calm and have a plan.”
Parents should also be mindful of how they talk about the virus in their everyday, casual conversations—because kids pick up on those things as well. Moeller suggests parents check in with their own feelings about the current situation and if necessary, take care of themselves first.
“If you’re feeling anxious about the virus, that’s okay … that’s a normal feeling,” says Moeller. “It’s even okay to tell your kids that you’re feeling nervous—while at the same time addressing the things that you can do to control the situation and keep them safe.”
Moeller suggests educating kids on the best ways to stay safe when at school or around other people, including the 3 Ws:
- Wear a mask
- Watch your distance
- Wash your hands often
Another helpful strategy to avoid touching and spreading germs includes reminding kids to replace traditional greetings with their socially distanced alternatives, such as air high fives and air hugs.
Safety after school.
Help keep the rest of your family safe by making these two steps part of your childrens’ after-school routine as soon as they walk in the door:
- Have them place their cloth face coverings in the laundry: Use a small lingerie bag to help masks keep their shape in the wash and prevent ear loops from getting caught or ripped.
- Remind them to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Hand sanitizer safety alerts.
It wasn’t that long ago that kids were drinking hand sanitizer gel (and eating Tide Pods). Now, due to shortages of hand sanitizer, it’s being manufactured by distilleries and sold in liquor bottles. Confusing messaging aside, hand sanitizer is flying off the shelves and will likely make it into a large number of school backpacks this year.
Before you stock up, you should know that some products have been found by the Food and Drug Administration to contain “concerningly low levels of ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol, which are active ingredients in hand sanitizer products.” In addition to these ineffective products, others have been found to contain dangerously high levels of methanol, or wood alcohol. Stay away from the brands on this list:
At Medical City Healthcare, we’re dedicated to the care and improvement of human life. So, we hope you’ll Take Care!
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