School is a central point in the lives of many children, so it’s important to encourage a safe return to school. It serves as an academic home where children can learn and practice social and emotional skills, get exercise, access nutritional food and mental health services, while being introduced to art, music and sports. Children have the opportunity to explore and express their inner creative spirit at school.
However, this year, because of COVID-19 the traditional school experience will be incredibly different. To maintain an environment of comfort, security and stability, schools will be making significant changes. These changes can be overwhelming for both parents and children. If your child is returning in-person to the classroom this fall here are some ways you can help prepare them for a safe return to school.
Help Children Prepare for a Safe Return to School
Speak openly, positively and calmly with your child about a safe return to school. Talk about the different look and feel of the school/classroom, friends, teachers, etc. This will place your child at ease and limit the risk of anxious feelings.
Listen to their thoughts and fears and help them understand it’s OK to be concerned. Let them know that everyone, including teachers, school officials and parents are working to make sure that everybody is safe.
Show support and let your child know that it’s not only okay, but normal, to feel frustrated or anxious at times like this. Be open to considering how they are experiencing things from their point of view.
As children often take their emotional cues from the key adults in their lives – including parents and teachers – it is important that adults manage their own emotions well and remain calm, listen to children’s concerns, speak kindly and reassure them.
Practice wearing masks at home before school starts. Show them how to take it on and off. Make a game of how long they can keep it on, or not touch it. Decorate them with stickers. Additionally, encourage your child to draw a picture of his or her class, including teachers and students wearing personal protective equipment.
Review the proper cough/sneeze elbow method and hand washing with your child and practice often at home. There are many apps, such as Ella’s Hand Washing Adventure to help teach hand washing to children. Make sure to teach them about how germs, even though invisible, could still be there. When children understand why they need to wash their hands, they’re likely to continue doing so.
Express the importance of physical distancing. There are great resources on YouTube and online for children of all ages that help explain social distancing to children. Clear messaging to children about the purpose of social distancing and personal hygiene is particularly important. For younger children, games, songs and stories are the best way to encourage and teach them. Also, make sure your child understands the importance of not sharing school supplies or food.
Helping Children Adjust to a Safe Return to School
Offer emotional support by having consistent discussions, about the school day, friends, stressful situations, etc. It’s important to be calm and proactive in your conversations. Their emotions will change regularly, and you need to show them that’s okay. Be aware of symptoms of depression and anxiety. Notify your health care professional immediately if you suspect symptoms. Review your school’s sick policy, knowing what symptoms to watch for and when to keep children at home.
Watch for signs of stigmatization and bullying due to misinformation around COVID-19. Let children know that the virus has nothing to do with what someone looks like, where they are from, or what language they speak. Remind your children that everyone deserves to be safe at school.
It’s also important for parents to be ready for children who are disappointed if they are unable to return in-person to school. Listen to what they have to say and what their disappointments are. By understanding their disappointment, you can move forward to help them make the most of the time they are going to be at home. It’s also important to continue to remind them that learning can happen anywhere. Prepare your child for the possibility that schools may need to close again to help them be prepared for the adjustment period.
Working together as a team (school leaders, health experts, teachers, parents and students), we can achieve a safe, cohesive, community-focused environment within schools, with the goal of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
About the Author
Dr. Reisha Brown is a pediatrician for Healthcare Network. Essential workers wishing to receive up to three free mental health appointment via telehealth or in person can learn more at HealthcareSWFL.org/Direct-Relief, or call 239.658.3185.