Children and COVID-19: Navigating In-Person Learning

Heading back to school looks a lot different this year for many North Texas families. Some families have been virtual learning for the beginning portion of the school year with in-person learning on the near horizon, while other families have been given the decision to do 100 percent virtual or in-person learning this year. No matter the options you’ve been given by your school district, deciding whether to send your child back to the classroom can be a tough decision for you to make. 

Here are some tips on how to make the best decision for you, your student and your family, plus how to keep them healthy this school year. 

 

I’m sending my child for in-person learning this year. What are some things I should do to prepare? 

If you plan on sending your student to campus this year, there are a few considerations to keep in mind before they head in for the first day.

Ask or read up on how your school plans to help ensure that students, faculty and staff are following practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Understand what their plans are for physical education and physical activity, such as P.E. and recess. Will they prioritize being outdoors as much as possible, and if they have to be indoors, will they reduce the number of students inside and encourage safe distancing? 

Make sure your family’s information is current at your child’s school, including emergency contacts and individuals authorized to pick up your student(s) from school. If that list includes anyone who is at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, consider identifying an alternate person. Also be familiar with your school’s plan for how they will communicate with families when a positive case or exposure to someone with COVID-19 is identified. 

If an outbreak occurs, make sure you plan for any possible school closures or periods of quarantine. Similarly, if a close contact of your child (within or outside of school) tests positive for COVID-19, your child may need to stay home for a 2-week quarantine period. Consider what you’ll do, such as the feasibility of teleworking, taking leave from work, or identifying someone who can supervise your child in the event of closures or quarantine.

If your student relies on public or private transportation to get to school, it’s also important to plan ahead on any changes that have occurred. For instance, if your child rides a bus, plan for your child to wear a mask on the bus and talk to them about the importance of following all rules, including spaced seating rules that may be enforced. If your child carpools, plan on every child in the carpool and the driver wearing masks for the entire trip. If your school uses the cohort model, consider finding families within your child’s group/cohort at school to be part of the carpool, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

 

Is there anything I should do the morning of school to make sure my child is healthy and best-prepared? 

Outside of cold and flu season, you most likely wouldn’t ask your child if they feel feverish or ill unless they brought it up themselves. But right now, it’s a good measure to check their temperature every morning before school and check for any signs of illness. Make sure your child does not have a sore throat or other signs of illness, like a cough, diarrhea, severe headache, vomiting, or body aches. If your child has a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, they should not go to school, and you should consider making an appointment with their pediatrician or heading to urgent care. 

If you have a young child, it may be necessary to go over proper handwashing and safe distancing measures every morning as well. 

 

My child is required or strongly encouraged to wear a mask or face-shield at their school. How can I make sure it fits them well and that they keep it on as much as possible? 

Appropriate and consistent use of masks may be challenging for some children, especially if they’re young. If your school is requiring or encouraging the use of masks, think about the following actions.

  • Have multiple masks, so you can wash them daily and have back-ups ready. Choose masks that

    • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
    • Completely cover the nose and mouth
    • Are secured with ties or ear loops
    • Include multiple layers of fabric
    • Allow for breathing without restriction
    • Can be washed and machine dried without damage or change to shape
  • Label your child’s masks clearly so that they are not confused with those of other children.
  • Practice with your child putting on and taking off masks without touching the cloth.
  • Consider providing your child with a container (e.g., labeled resealable bag) to bring to school to store their masks when not wearing it (e.g., when eating)

If you have a young child, they may be scared, confused or shy about wearing a mask. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends building their comfort by praising them for wearing a mask correctly, putting a mask on stuffed animals, drawing a mask on a favorite book, movie or television character, or simply talking about masks and how it protects others from getting sick. You can also allow your child to choose their mask or decorate it so that it’s more appealing for them to wear. As a family, you can also model wearing masks, especially when you are in situations where physical distancing is difficult to maintain or impossible. 

 

How can I help keep my child healthy?

“As a rule, keeping kids healthy during the school year centers around adequate sleep, a healthy diet, good hygiene, and vaccinations,” says Paul Guttuso, M.D., a family and sports medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Kaufman and at Texas Health Family & Sports Care in Mabank, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice.

A well-rested child who eats a balanced and nutritious meal is less likely to get sick than a child who does neither. Good hand hygiene helps minimize the spread of germs, and it reminds kids about keeping things like pens out of their mouths. Everyone in the household should be vaccinated against the flu each year.

 

How much sleep should my school-age child be getting each night?

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the following guidelines should be followed concerning your children’s sleep requirements:    

  • Age 5: Parents or caregivers should ensure that kindergartners sleep 10-13 hours per day, including naps for optimal health.
  • Ages 6-12: Parents should strive for 9-12 hours of sleep each night for children in this age range.
  • Teenagers: Parents should encourage their teenagers to get 8-10 hours of sleep each night.

Students who haven’t had enough sleep often show signs of moodiness or have difficulty focusing in the classroom, so it’s wise to stick to a sleep routine for the whole family to help your child learn and grow in the new school year.

 

At the end of the previous school year, I noticed all of the changes to their education made my child stressed or overwhelmed. What’s your advice to help quell that this year?

Guttuso says it’s a great idea to sit down with your child and have an honest conversation about what he or she wants to accomplish this school year, despite the changes. 

“It’s smart to encourage children to still engage with others, whether that’s in class or via extracurricular activities and sports,” Guttuso explains. “These activities keep kids active, teach discipline, and teamwork — and can be a lot of fun. They also prepare children for the real world. On the flip side, sometimes too much of anything is counterproductive. Busy schedules and a shift from the norm can stress the entire household and cause personal and family problems.”

Guttuso shared this WebMD quiz that may give you a clue whether your child is overscheduled, and he adds that if stress builds in your child and seems too overwhelming for the family to address, it may make sense to consult an outside professional, such as your family doctor or pediatrician.

 

We hear a lot these days about bullying, especially cyber-bullying. What can I do to ensure my child stays safe and has the tools to cope with bullying if it occurs?

Bullying seems to be all over the news these days, and it’s become part of a national conversation. Your child should always feel that he or she can talk to you, teachers or administrators if they feel bullied at school or by a school mate. Have a conversation with them before the school year starts, and check-in with them regularly to see how it’s going. I also advise getting involved in your children’s school, meet their teachers, administrators, and other parents and form relationships to last the school year. Here’s a good source for kids and their parents.

 

Bookmark trusted resources to stay up to date

This school year may be a bit more stressful than years past. Because protocols are constantly evolving to fit with guidance from the CDC, it can be even more stressful to keep on top of everything. 

The Texas Education Agency has a website dedicated to housing all of the information, guidance and resources you and your family may need this year. It’s also good practice to bookmark your school district’s website, sign up for email newsletters, or follow them on social media platforms to stay in the know. 

It’s also good to know where the closest COVID-19 testing site is to your family or if your child’s pediatrician offers testing. Partnering with your family care provider or pediatrician never ceases to be beneficial, so setting up a consultation with them prior to the school year can help ease any concerns you may have and you can create a plan of action.

Your whole family’s health is important all through the year! To find a Texas Health Care family medicine specialist near you, click here for a directory. 

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