Remember the good old days when the biggest dilemmas about back to school were buying the correct supplies and finding the sturdiest backpack? As parents and educators are all too aware, COVID-19 and its highly contagious Delta variant have changed all that and keeping kids safe from the virus is now top of mind.
But it doesn’t have to be hard, says Sharon Marshall, M.D., a pediatrician with Wayne Pediatrics, and we don’t need to be unnecessarily alarming our kids. “Parents should reinforce to their younger kids that yes, this is an illness, but as long as we wash our hands and wear our masks we will be protected. Assure them that the doctors and the country have ways to keep everyone safe,” she says. “It’s important that parents tailor discussions so they are age-appropriate according to their child’s ability to understand.”
Here are some guidelines for keeping your kids and community safe:
Understand your school’s protocols
Most likely each school district will do its best to make parents aware of the rules, but don’t just take this for granted. Seek out your school’s protocols about masking by checking its website or contacting your PTA. As Dr. Marshall says, “don’t leave it to chance so there are no surprises on that first day.”
Don’t guess, get tested
If you suspect your child is sick or has been exposed to COVID-19, get them tested pronto at a pharmacy, health clinic or doctor’s office. Results from COVID tests at Wayne Pediatrics come in within about 24 hours. “In the meantime, make sure you are quarantining your child,” Dr. Marshall says.
Model good behavior
When they see their parents and siblings masking, using hand sanitizer, washing hands often and social distancing, most children will naturally follow suit. Also be sure to reinforce regular hand washing before and after bathroom breaks.
“Make hand washing fun and stress that by washing your hands, you are keeping yourself safe and healthy,” Dr. Marshall advises. “Pick a song, a rhyme or a rap of about 20 to 30 seconds to do while washing, and make sure to wash all the hands’ surfaces, between the fingers and right to the wrist line.”
Emphasize social distancing
Young children just naturally love to hug and touch and preventing this will not be easy, Dr. Marshall concedes.
“This is going to be challenging, especially for younger kids who don’t understand the concept of 3 or 6 feet,” she says. “Children will have to relearn things like lining up and standing right next to each other, and the schools will probably need more structure in this area.”
Keep backpacks well supplied
Be sure there are ample amounts of hand sanitizer, masks and cleaning wipes — and don’t forget plenty of facial tissue. In addition to COVID, seasonal maladies like cold and flu are just around the corner. “Kids are going to be coughing and sneezing just like always,” Dr. Marshall notes.
Stay current on immunizations and well-child visits
Last year’s quarantine closed medical offices along with virtually everything else, so many kids may be behind on their vaccinations. If you’re not sure, call your provider and ask them to check your child’s records. And get your children ages 12 and older vaccinated against COVID.
About 3% of her patient families are anti-vax, Dr. Marshall says, believing that vaccines cause more harm than good. She’s seen some teens who want the COVID vaccine but their parents object, and 18 is the general age of consent for vaccinations.
“I try to find out their reasoning. Most of them are fairly well read about vaccines, but some of their information may be slanted, so I try to get them to read the CDC and FDA literature, too,” Dr. Marshall says of vaccine resisters. “I try to meet parents where they are; if they don’t want their kids to be vaccinated, they have to be aware that if their kids are around children with chicken pox or meningitis, they are really at risk.”
Practice healthy routines
Proper nutrition and adequate rest are more important than ever in this age of COVID-19. Make sure your children are eating breakfast and lunch and getting at least eight to nine hours of sleep each night — even more for high schoolers. Dr. Marshall likes the trend toward later high school start times so teens get enough sleep — and have time for breakfast before rushing out the door.
Don’t forget mental health
“The pandemic has affected everyone,” Dr. Marshall says. “Some people have lost friends or family; some have lost jobs and income. It’s been really hard even for families that were not directly affected. We have seen more mood disorders and crying, anxiety and depression than before. It’s going to be a bumpy year, so be sure to do fun family activities to relieve stress and allow your children to talk about their worries and concerns.”
Wayne Pediatrics has a wealth of resources for parents including a team of experts in general pediatrics and specialty care as well as social workers, dietitians, diabetes educators and psychologists. Visit waynepediatrics.org or call 313-448-4600 to make an appointment.