Raising little ones is a challenge in the best of times. The coronavirus pandemic has presented new obstacles for parents, caregivers, and educators alike. The question of how to keep children safe, intellectually stimulated, and socially adept has been a point of concern in our community since early March. The upcoming academic year brings a new level of uncertainty about emotionally preparing children to return to school during COVID-19.
How Can I Help Prepare My Child to Return to School During COVID-19?
In this regard, information is key. Help your child understand what COVID-19 is and how it can impact them can be helpful in decreasing anxiety. Education will depend on their age and development. The Florida State University Center for Child Stress & Health has a children’s story and activity book that can help parents describe the virus to younger children. With older children, it is important to talk about sources of reliable information instead of depending solely on social media.
How Can I Encourage My Child to Follow Precautions?
Practice, practice, practice. Model handwashing and physical distancing. Developing them into a habit will help turn these behaviors into second nature. When it comes to younger children, remind them not to share food or drink and teach proper mask usage. Labeling personal items will help encourage their sense of personal property and aid teachers when organizing lunchtime and other activities. With our teens, the conversation about the birds and the bees has never been more critical. Intimate activities such as kissing, sex, and even handholding carry an inherent risk that should be discussed within families.
How Can I Help Ensure My Child Does Not Feel Isolated?
Although we have a natural tendency to discourage screen time in favor of active play, the role of screens has taken on new meaning since COVID-19 and a new priority. Allowing your child to engage with peers through electronic means (i.e., Xbox, PS4, FaceTime, etc.), with appropriate parental controls, may help alleviate some loneliness. Likewise, have thoughtful discussion with children about reasons to home-school. Children may feel resentment because they may feel it is unfair that peers are going back to school while they are not.
How Can I Check in with My Child to Ensure They are OK After they Return to School During COVID-19
Younger children are usually quite transparent in their feelings, despite having difficulty articulating them. Regressive behaviors such as tantrums, thumb sucking, or requesting bed-sharing can be indicators of emotional distress. Older children may show self-isolation and withdrawal from the family. Activities such as family game night, movie night, or family dinners can assist staying attuned to children’s emotions. Parents should not hesitate to contact their child’s pediatrician should they notice these signs. Early intervention is key to maintaining physical and emotional well-being.