Across the country, school districts are announcing reopening plans for the 2020-2021 school year. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released advice, with a number of caveats that advocated “all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” At the local-level, public health leaders and school officials are considering reopening alongside a myriad of factors – including local COVID-19 spread – before determining how and when students will return to school.
Schools are being asked to be flexible and responsive to new information about the virus. For some families, this may mean remote learning. For others, children may have the option to return to school in-person. Now is the time to prepare for what that may look like.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released guidance for schools to open during COVID-19, which advises schools to “ensure adequate supplies are available to support healthy hygiene practices, and to routinely clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are frequently touched.” In order to support these efforts, the CDC recommends parents reinforce good prevention habits, including washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
The CDC endorses face coverings as an important COVID-19 mitigation strategy, and some schools have opted to include masks in their back-to-school safety plan. While getting kids to wear masks can be tricky, Laura-Anne Cleveland, associate chief nursing officer at HCA Healthcare’s Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children offers the following tips to help:
Practice is key
The best advice we can give is to start practicing. Don’t expect things to be perfect at first, but know that the more they wear masks, the more comfortable they will start to feel in it. By practicing at home, you give them a safe space to take it off for a break as needed.
Build mask endurance
As with any new habit, we recommend starting small. By starting in increments, you can see how they are tolerating it and build up accordingly. It is also particularly important to practice early if you have a child with sensory issues. Try to find a comfortable mask and reward them for the time they wear it by doing fun things while they have it on.
Make it fun
In addition to doing entertaining activities while wearing a mask, you can also make the mask itself fun by having your child decorate it to make it their own. If it’s a paper mask, they can use stickers. If it’s fabric, they can use fabric paint on the outside. Find fabrics that reflect their personality, like their favorite sports team or superhero. You can even attach wings to them if you want to be an angel or something similar. The masks should be something children enjoy wearing.
Explain the ‘why’
Talk to them about germs and how the mask can prevent them from spreading viruses. Older kids may have reservations because they think it is not cool or they are afraid it will contribute to acne, so it’s important to discuss the why behind wearing a mask so they are armed with information if they experience peer pressure to stop wearing it. The CDC has some great tips on how you can discuss COVID-19 with your kids, including remaining calm and reassuring.
It’s important for parents to have a discussion with children to make sure they understand that if they need to take the mask off for a breather at school, to make sure they are away from people.
6 questions to ask before returning to school
As plans begin to take shape for schools to reopen, here are some key questions to ask in order to prepare yourself and your children for some of the changes they may see:
- Will masks be required for students? If so, when and where should they be worn?
- Am I required to provide a mask for my child or will masks be provided? If I am required to provide a mask, will extras be on-hand if my child forgets or loses their mask?
- What transportation-related changes should I be aware of? (E.g. pick-up/drop-off protocol, changes to bus routes/times/protocol, etc.)?
- Will physical distancing be set up within classrooms? What other guidelines on distancing will be adopted that my child should be aware of?
- Will extracurricular activities resume? If so, what precautions or protocols should I be aware of?
- Will students or staff at our school be screened for symptoms of COVID-19, and what will happen if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19?
Supporting mental health during the school year
As kids return to school, it’s important to keep an eye out for stress and anxiety in your child that could be a result of these changes. This can take shape in many different ways, including an increase in physical symptoms, changes in sleep patterns, continually seeking reassurance despite already receiving an answer and acting out.
It is important that adults manage their own emotions regarding the pandemic and remain calm, listen to their children’s concerns, speak kindly and reassure them. In order to help support your child’s mental health about the changes at school as a result of COVID-19, parents should:
- Encourage conversation about the new protocols and safety rules
- Practice the new safety rules before starting school
- Acknowledge and validate the child’s feelings if they are scared or anxious
- Reassure the child that a lot of adults are working hard to keep everyone safe
If your child’s behaviors persist despite the above interventions, consider contacting a counselor such as an advanced practice nurse, a social worker, a licensed practical counselor or a psychiatrist for further evaluation.