While the pandemic made us all seriously grateful for teachers, we’re still unsure if we’re going to see them again this fall (single tear). All the uncertainty is enough to consume our thoughts for the rest of the summer, but thankfully we’ve culled some expert advice for parents whose kids are likely to go back sometime soon. Here, five pediatricians weigh in on how to safely ease the transition.
Just as it’ll feel weird for us adults to jump back into big gatherings, it’ll also be weird for kids to see all of their friends again so suddenly. “Children can’t learn if they don’t feel safe,” says Dr. Allie Shapiro, a child & adolescent psychiatrist with Community Psychiatry in Beverly Hills, CA. “Assuming kids are going back to school in person, my initial advice is that they practice by safely seeing friends and family prior to their return. It’s best if they become accustomed to being with their peers and the necessary social distancing that will now be required in school in smaller, controlled settings.” Dr. Shapiro also recommends having an earnest conversation with your child about maintaining social distancing, especially with younger children and kids with social anxiety. Reintegrating them with friends and other social groups slowly prior to the start of the school year will help make the interactions not appear as intense or shocking once school resumes in person.
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“Wearing a mask is hard, even for grownups,” Dr. Sara Kopple of Westmed Medical Group in New Rochelle, NY, maintains. “Whenever I see kids correctly wearing masks in the office, I always praise them for it. Kids enjoy the positive feedback. I think if kids are wearing masks in class, teachers (or parents) can incorporate some sort of reward system for younger kids to focus on the positive behavior and try to avoid reprimands when masks are not being worn or are being fidgeted with.” Dr. Kopple said to also make sure you teach kids not to touch the outside of their masks to avoid contamination. Even a simple phrase like “mask on, hands off” can help them remember.
“First off, I’m not entirely sure six feet is a magical distance where you are suddenly completely safe. Second, I am also not sure many children really have the spatial awareness to know what six feet means depending on their age,” Dr. Kopple admits. “If children need a visual, my daughter actually taught me what she uses and I love it (a future pediatrician for sure!). She imagines her dad lying down on the ground between her and a friend, if she thinks he wouldn’t be able to fit in the space, she is probably too close and should back away a little.” However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released guidelines that say if six feet is not possible in the classroom, then a distance of at least three feet is encouraged. Outdoor classes are also highly recommended.
“Try to arrange outdoor play dates and encourage physical activity,” says Dr. Dyan Hes of Founder of Gramercy Pediatrics. “My guess is that PE will be limited or cancelled in cold weather due to crowding in school gyms. Encourage at-home activities like jump rope and hula hoop. Find some fun exercise videos for children. They even make exercise bikes in child sizes. Bike riding, skateboarding, and scootering are all good activities that are socially distanced.” Dr. Hes also recommends trying to limit at-home screen time once kids are back in school. “This is easier said than done, but I believe that in crowded schools, there may be a hybrid model, where let’s say, half of the grade goes to school on day A and the second half on day B. This will still result in many kids online throughout the week.”
Dr. Erica Waterman of GoHealth Pediatric Urgent Care in New York, NY, recommends paying special attention to kids’ outfits and hairstyles when they’re getting ready in the morning (and not just because you’re looking for stains from that ice-cream run the night before). In order to limit the urge for them to touch their face and hair, Waterman says it’s best to pull hair back, either in a ponytail or with a headband. “Regarding hair styles, hair should be kept out of your child’s face. If it is long or ‘in between’ it can be pulled back, if it is short it should be short enough that it does not get near their eyes. This will help them keep their hands away from their faces.”
“Understanding the importance of good hand hygiene is one of the most essential things your child should know when heading back to school,” Dr. Jarret Patton, pediatrician and CEO of DoctorJarret in eastern Pennsylvania said. “Use the summer as a training ground for proper hand washing while teaching your child how germs can spread by touching objects or other people.” An unexpected consequence of the pandemic, though, is “caution fatigue,” as we all become a bit more lenient with the 20-second hand-washing practices as the rest of the country seems to relax its guidelines. One way to avoid it with your kids: Don’t let fear of getting sick be the motivation, since that stress and anxiety is what causes fatigue in the first place. Instead, make good hygiene about a positive notion, like saying to your kids, “See? We’ve all stayed healthy and safe all summer. Let’s keep it up!”
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