This next school year will be different for students and parents alike. While school systems are finalizing details for the 2021-2022 school year, you and your family should also prepare a plan-of-action to stay healthy in and out of class. Mercy Medical Group pediatrician Kimberly Hart, DO has some advice that can ease any concerns you may have about sending your kids back to school in this phase of the pandemic.
Before the First Day
One thing you can do before the first day of school that will help protect your child, their peers and your family from the coronavirus and other transmissible germs and viruses, is getting your family vaccinated.
“Vaccines are always important to protect kids from preventable illness. This year, in-person school will likely be back for most students, so as people gather in larger groups, more infections will be able to spread,” said Dr. Hart.
For kids older than twelve, the CDC recommends vaccinating your child against COVID-19 as soon as you can. The COVID-19 vaccine not only protects vaccinated children, but helps reduce the risk of transmission to younger children or immunocompromised friends, family and community members who can’t safely be vaccinated.
To find a local COVID-19 vaccination site, visit vaccines.gov. It’s important to know that your child won’t be completely inoculated (or protected) against the virus until two weeks after they receive both doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
The pandemic has changed life for everyone, and children especially will need to go back to school with healthy stress management skills to navigate large social environments after being at home for so long. Dr. Hart recommends that parents check in regularly with their kids to help manage stress and anxiety. This looks different for each age group and for each child, but the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology has resources for talking about the coronavirus with young children and with teens. Take time after school each day to catch up with your child — ask them how class was or if anything interesting or challenging happened that day, and allow your child to feel and express their emotions (even the negative ones).
During the school day, however, your child should be prepared to make safe and healthy choices. Hand washing is one of the easiest and most impactful actions your child can take in school settings to help stay healthy. Teach them how to politely assert their boundaries if they’re not comfortable sitting in a large group or hugging and shaking hands with other students. Remind them that even though after-school activities and events are coming back, there are still concerns about coronavirus transmission and everyone should do their part to keep each other safe.
Good habits start at home, and Dr. Hart emphasizes the role parents play in teaching and reinforcing healthy habits.
“Good general hygiene is always important, and parents can set a good example by washing their hands frequently,” she says. Another thing parents can do to mitigate the spread of germs? Don’t send your child to school if they’re feeling sick. Before the pandemic, many students would “power through” the common cold and still go to school, but if there is anything the last year has taught us, it is better to be safe than sorry. Dr. Hart says staying home if your child is having any symptoms will prevent the spread of a potential illness to others outside the home.
Dr. Hart has an additional piece of advice to help manage back-to-school stress for students and parents alike: stay active! “Physical exercise is important even if it's not a group sport. Walking, biking, swimming, keeping the body active helps mental and physical health,” she says. After spending the whole day sitting at a desk, some independent or group play time after school can help your kids decompress.
Back-to-school is an exciting but stressful time, and this year will be no different. If we all do our part to make in-person learning safe, we can avoid taking steps in the wrong direction as we get through this pandemic. For more resources to help manage learning amidst COVID-19, visit the CDC’s resources page for school settings. Ask your primary care provider if you have any questions or concerns about vaccines; to find a Dignity Health Medical Group physician, click here.