1. Know the School Plan
The thought of sending our children back to school is anxiety-provoking for most parents, especially for those with children under the age of 12 who cannot yet get vaccinated. Understanding the school’s plan will not only help calm fears but also answer some very important questions. Find out the percentage of teachers and staff that has been vaccinated. Ask about the school’s surveillance plan to assess for COVID-19 exposure. Inquire about their cleaning standards; mask protocols, and social distancing strategy. Also make sure to ask how families will be notified about close contact exposures.
2. Mask Them Up to Reduce Risk
Despite what social media says, children wearing masks are not at risk for bad health outcomes. Wearing a mask will not impair their immune systems; it will not prevent them from socializing, and it will not cause brain injury. For those under the age of 12, masks are really the only protection against COVID-19 other than all of the adults around them being vaccinated. The best choice is any mask that they will be comfortable in that fits well with no gaps around the mouth, nose or chin. Ideally, an N95 or double-layered mask is recommended but it has to be comfortable for your little one. Make sure to send a couple of masks, at least 2 or 3, just in case they get dirty or lost. Also, remember to wash the masks often (after about 2 days of use) to keep your child protected.
3. Talk It Through Before the First Day of School
Check in with your children before sending them off to school to assess what their thoughts, fears, and concerns may be before starting the school year. A good number of children, younger and older, may feel a bit anxious going back to on-campus learning. Talk through how they are feeling and discuss the family’s plan and the school’s plan for a successful academic year. If you’re nervous, share how you’re feeling so that they know they are not alone. Check in periodically to see how they are adjusting and address any concerns that may come up. Children are very resilient but benefit from parents and caregivers creating a space for them to share how they are feeling and managing through the pandemic as they return to school.
4. Managing COVID-19 Exposures
As we maneuver through the next wave of the pandemic, there will likely be COVID-19 exposures at school. Make sure that you know the school’s protocol ahead of time so that you can plan accordingly. If the school district provides specific instructions for quarantining, follow that guidance You will likely need to quarantine your child at home but take reasonable precautions. Try to keep some physical distance between the quarantining child and other household members, and have the child and/or those other family members wear a mask, especially those who are the most vulnerable and unvaccinated. Your child will likely need to be tested prior to returning to school in order to keep everyone safe.
5. Handling Sniffles, Coughs, and Fevers
It is inevitable that your child will develop a cough, runny nose, or fever during the school year. It is important to be aware of the school’s protocol for symptoms so that you know when/if you need to keep them home. Reach out to your child’s provider to assess symptoms and plan to get a COVID test. Keep your child home until you get the results. Even if it’s just a cold, it’s best to keep them home for a couple of days to keep everyone safe!
6. So Your Kid Has COVID!
The first thing to is not panic! The majority of children have very mild symptoms. We hear about scary complications like multi-system inflammatory syndrome but this condition is very rare. The important steps to take are to keep them hydrated, to feed them foods that will boost their immune systems, like foods rich in vitamins A. B, C, D, and zinc. Keep a close eye on your child and check in with the pediatrician, particularly if your child has underlying health conditions that may need monitoring. Keep your child home until they're no longer contagious, usually around 10 days. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children and adolescents who test positive for COVID-19 have at least one follow-up visit with their primary care provider.
Household management is also very important. Everyone in the house should wear masks as much as possible and try to get fresh air flowing through the house. Handwashing is a must to decrease risk of transmission from contaminated services. Discuss the game plan for who will stay home and how other children will be taken care of while the child with COVID is cared for so that one parent isn’t overwhelmed.
7. Optimize Your Child’s Health
Proper nutrition with 3 to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, reduced sugar intake (no more than 6 teaspoons per day), and plenty of water will help keep your child’s immune system ready to fight off any cootie she encounters. A good night’s sleep every night and reducing screen time are also excellent ways to help them maintain good health throughout the school year. Mental wellness check-ins on a regular basis to assess for stress, anxiety, and any other issues will help them have an amazing school year! Lastly, get vaccinated and consider getting your child vaccinated when they are eligible to do so and you are comfortable getting them vaccinated.