By Lloyd Fisher, MD
Reliant Medical Group Pediatrics
President, Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
Dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic has been particularly difficult for families with children. Parents are challenged with preparing their children for a different type of school year this fall. Many children finished the last school year with a fully in-person experience, while others remained fully remote. For those children this fall may be the first time inside of the school building in 18 months.
It will be important to prepare them mentally for what’s ahead and set some expectations. Parents know that the school year provides more than just academics for children. It also helps them develop important social and emotional skills that can’t be duplicated remotely. School also provides structure to daily life and an opportunity for children to participate in activities they love. Here are some tips on helping your kids adjust emotionally to returning to school this fall.
Talk to your children about their feelings about school. It’s important to know if they are stressed or worried about physically going back to school or about wearing masks in class so you can help address their concerns. Some children will be very excited to go back, others may be fearful. Remember that if you show signs of stress and worry over your children returning to school, your children will pick up on those feelings. Let them know you are concerned but confident it will work out.
Schools will have important safety measures in place that your child may not have dealt with before, like wearing a mask all day. It’s important to let them know what they should expect. Many favorite school activities, from field trips to sports, may either be scaled back or cancelled. There is also a chance an outbreak of Covid-19 in your area could cause the cancellation of in-school learning entirely. Talk to your children about these unexpected challenges and possible disappointments. Let them know you share their frustration. Encourage them not to look too far ahead and take the changes they are experiencing one day at a time.
Practice Wearing Masks
Most children have done an excellent job of wearing masks. Schools will be having periodic mask breaks; however, the children will still need to keep masks on for most of the day. Make sure that your child practices wearing masks for increasingly longer periods of time prior to the start of school this fall. Have them practice while doing activities at home (watching TV, playing video games, playing a board game). Schools will require that your child has multiple masks so find masks in colors, patterns, or designs that your child enjoys wearing. There are very few children who have medical conditions which would prevent them from being able to wear a mask. If you have questions or concerns discuss with your child’s primary care provider.
Let your children know that the problems that are affecting them will not last forever. Encourage them to stay positive.
Practice Model Behavior
Everyone in the family has to be aware of how easily Covid-19 can spread. Demonstrating to your children key safety measures, such as wearing a face mask, practicing proper social distancing, and frequent hand-washing will help them understand the importance of taking precautions and make it easier for them to adapt to these protocols at school.
Watch for Behavior Changes
Not every child will adjust easily to the school changes caused by Covid-19. Talk to your child about how school is going and look for changes like excessive crying or irritation, sadness or worry, changes in eating or sleeping habits, or difficulty concentrating – which could be signs that your child is struggling with stress or anxiety. Check to see if your school provides mental health services to students in need of support. You can also ask your pediatrician for help with mental health resources if they are needed.
(Resources to help children with mask-wearing)