Getting kids ready for a new school year usually means buying new clothes and supplies such as notebooks and backpacks. This year, it's also a good idea to add hand-sanitizing wipes to your shopping list, advises Hazel S. Guinto, MD, pediatric emergency medicine, Nemours Children’s Health at Main Line Health.
How to keep kids safe at school during COVID is the top-of-mind concern as students return to the classroom. Policies about things like mask-wearing, vaccines and distance learning will vary, so it’s important to stay up-to-date with the latest information from your school.
Whatever the requirements, Dr. Guinto suggests taking these steps to help kids be prepared.
Encourage good hygiene. Sending kids to school with hand wipes is a good reminder that washing or sanitizing their hands often can stop germs from spreading. Another healthy habit is coughing or sneezing into their elbows or a tissue when not masked. “As things open back up, we expect there may be more transmission of non-COVID viruses that children weren’t exposed to while staying home. So practices put in place during the pandemic are still very important,” explains Dr. Guinto.
Talk as a family about your comfort level. Especially if a family member has an underlying health condition, it’s important to realize that unvaccinated children at school can be COVID carriers. So it may be best for kids in your family to keep wearing masks even where not required. And help them know how to handle being with schoolmates who have different habits than your family’s. “When everyone’s doing their own thing, it can be confusing if your child isn’t prepared,” says Dr. Guinto.
Help your child get ready for new routines. Getting up early and having less free time may be a big change for some kids. Socializing again could be, too. For preschoolers and kindergarteners, being with others their age could seem scary. Practice play groups can help them adapt. For older kids, going back to school may be a long-awaited return to normal. But some may feel anxious and unsure. Talk through their feelings with them, and don’t hesitate to get help from a mental health professional if needed.
Prepare for emergencies before they happen. Make sure your child’s immunizations are up to date and their school has a current health record, including all allergies, insurance information and emergency contacts. You should also always have this information handy just in case emergency care is needed. Consider opening an online patient portal for members of your family or put the information in your smartphone.
Find out more about Main Line Health’s pediatric services, in partnership with Nemours Children’s Health.