Back to school looks different this year: Set the stage for success

Whether your students are heading back to school in a classroom or learning at your kitchen table, there are resources and support available to make this school year just as successful as previous ones.

“No matter what your family’s plans involve this school year, it’s important to be respectful -  to yourself and others in the community,” shares Neeta Jain, MD, pediatrician at Swedish Pediatrics. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] have established guidelines to keep kids safe at school and school districts are diligently working with educators to ensure children learning at home continue to thrive in academics. We can all have a positive experience this year when parents set the lead.”

We can all have a positive experience this year when parents set the lead.

Dr. Jain shares her advice on preparing for the new school year.

Keep children healthy with practice, preparation

For children returning to the classroom, it’s critical that parents help them get ready for new rules and expectations. That includes getting used to wearing a face mask, a proven way to help reduce the spread of the virus.

“Let your child wear a face covering while they’re at home relaxing or playing with toys to get used to the way it feels,” Dr. Jain encourages. “Talk to them about why it’s important to wear one. Let them know it helps keep not only them healthy and safe, but their friends and teachers as well.”

Students of all ages should also be reminded of proper hand hygiene. Make sure your child knows how to properly wash their hands.

Younger children (and teenagers) also need to understand why it’s important to try to keep distance between themselves and their friends.

Younger children (and teenagers) also need to understand why it’s important to try to keep distance between themselves and their friends. With younger kids, you can role-play some of these rules during playtime or storytime to help it become part of the routine and almost second nature.

Another way to keep everyone healthy this fall, wherever they may be learning, is by getting your flu vaccine. Flu season peaks from October through February and may even last until May. Although medical providers aren’t yet sure of the impact of COVID-19 on the flu season, they do agree that there are many ways to stay healthy, including:

  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Eating healthy
  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding people who are sick

It’s also critical to keep up with your child’s regularly scheduled well visits. Doctors’ offices are taking safety precautions to keep patients healthy. These check-ins with your child’s doctor also provide the opportunity to share any concerns you or your child may have and stay up to date with vaccines.

Start the school year with a conversation about goals and guidelines for learning. Find out what your child wants to get out of the school year. 

Preparation is also key to establish routines and expectations for children learning from home. Start the school year with a conversation about goals and guidelines for learning. Find out what your child wants to get out of the school year. You may be surprised to hear that their goals are different than yours.

For example, your child may be excited to see their friends (either in person or remotely), learn a new language or improve their study skills. Supporting their ideas and finding ways to help them be successful can make a huge difference. And creating a schedule together can help kids understand their responsibilities and expectations.

Listen to more insights from Swedish pediatricians in a recent Facebook Live session, entitled: Back to School, Keeping Kids Safe. During the discussion, they examine the health and safety of students, their relatives who may be at higher risk and educators.

Set the tone with a positive attitude

When parents stay positive about the new school year, it will help kids focus on what’s good this fall.

“It’s very important for parents to set a positive tone for younger kids,” Dr. Jain explains. “Younger kids don’t know what’s happening; they don’t understand the repercussions. They just want to know if their environment is safe, and they look to their parents for that reassurance.”

This also means that when parents are anxious, the kids will be, too.

“Children won’t always voice their anxiety or concerns. They may not have the language for that,” she continues. “When parents notice that children are acting differently – having temper tantrums, waking up in the middle of the night, complaining of headaches – those are signs that something is bothering them.”

When that does happen, Dr. Jain encourages parents to talk to their children to find out how they’re feeling. Together, you can brainstorm solutions to help them feel a little more in control over uncertain times and better manage their mental and emotional health.

A little positivity and open communication can go a long way, reminds Dr. Jain.

As a parent, it’s your responsibility to be positive. Reassure children that, yes, this is a virus, but if we take precautions we can be healthy.

“As a parent, it’s your responsibility to be positive. Reassure children that, yes, this is a virus, but if we take precautions we can be healthy,” she says. “It really is a wonderful time to teach children how to face adversity and be resilient.”

Authentic positivity doesn’t just help kids adjust to new expectations – it also fosters the idea that keeping an open mind can make a difference when going into an uncertain situation.

“It’s important to be respectful of other people’s choices too,” Dr. Jain says. “I am worried about the bullying that may take place when a child does or doesn’t wear a mask because of an underlying medical condition or when a family makes a decision that’s different from yours. We must teach our children to be mindful of other people’s differences and accepting of their choices.”

“We are all working to keep our families safe. That is first and foremost,” she reiterates.

Let children have a say

We are all navigating new routines and expectations. Sometimes, the best solutions can come directly from your children.

“I hear a lot from parents that their child is feeling anxious. They want to know how to help them cope,” Dr. Jain shares. “I am very optimistic that the pandemic is helping change the stigma around mental health. It’s something more and more of us are experiencing and navigating together.”

Dr. Jain encourages parents to help children be part of the solution. “Ask your child for ideas on how to help them feel better. Have an open and honest conversation about their feelings and worries.”

Teens are also likely to feel stressed with new restrictions. They need just as much support as younger kids.

“Older children may even have ideas on how we should be fighting the virus,” she adds. “I had one patient give me a terrific idea about how to get more people in the community to wear a mask.”

A key foundation of strong mental health is communication – between parents and children, between adults and their friends and with a medical professional.

A key foundation of strong mental health is communication. Mealtime is a great time to check in with your children and it’s why we recommend having at least one to two family meals each week.

“Mealtime is a great time to check in with your children and it’s why we recommend having at least one to two family meals each week,” Dr. Jain says. “Ask specific questions to your child, such as ‘What was your favorite part of your day’ or ‘What’s one thing you wish you could change about your day.’ It will help get more specific responses than just the typical ‘It was fine’ answer when you ask a child how their day was.”

Your child’s pediatrician is often a good place to start if your child is experiencing stress, worry or anxiety over COVID-19 and returning back to school.

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Find a doctor

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult with a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Express Care Virtual connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Talk to your doctor and make sure you’re up-to-date with recommended vaccines. Find out what we’re doing to keep you safe when you visit.

Related resources

Family fitness at home

Pediatricians warn parents to immunize children during pandemic

To-do or to-be in the time of COVID-19

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

Our philosophy for well being is looking at the holistic human experience. As such, the Swedish Wellness & Lifestyle Team is committed to shining a light on health-related topics that help you live your healthiest life. From nutrition to mindfulness to annual screenings, our team offers clinically-backed advice and tips to help you and your loved ones live life to the fullest.

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