6 Tips for Keeping Kids Healthy and Safe – Back at School or at Home

October 26, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges to back-to-school season. We’ve got some helpful tips on navigating this time as a family, and keeping your children healthy and safe, at school and at home.

COVID-19 has impacted the school year in unprecedented ways, bringing with it anxiety, stress, and uncertainty. On top of worrying about safety and risk, parents are juggling child care and work issues—and some are coping with unemployment or reduced income, too.

As the new school year kicks into full gear across the country, schools are trying to balance students’ educational, social and emotional needs, along with health and safety issues of running a school in the middle of the evolving pandemic. They’re working through logistical mazes as they plan in-person, hybrid, or fully remote learning, which is yet another challenge for parents to manage, along with teachers who are parents themselves, or who are dealing with health conditions of their own. And many families may not have access to the technology and Internet connection needed for successful school from home – or other essential resources they relied on schools for, like access to fresh fruits and vegetables – or even enough food at all.

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No parent is fully prepared to send a child back to school during a pandemic.With many schools offering 100% online learning as an option, you may decide to keep your kids in remote learning this semester. Or, knowing how important classroom learning and socialization are for your child, you may decide that you've done your research in safely sending your child back to school. Whatever choice you make, what matters is that you feel you've made the right decision for your child and your family. If you have concerns about the school’s safety protocols, contact your child’s teacher, or the principal, for additional information to ease your worries.

The good news is that even though COVID-19 has been reported in children and adolescents, the case numbers are far lower than in adults. Current evidence suggests that children tend to experience much milder symptoms, or none at all. But understandably, the main question on every parent’s mind is, “How can I keep my child safe?”

With all the information that’s out there, it can be hard to know where to start looking for an answer. So we’ve pulled together six practical – but essential – things you can do during this unusual school year.

1. Master COVID-19 safety, at home.

COVID-19 has brought changes to everyday life that are new for all of us. These can be even more of a challenge for kids and adolescents. The best way to make sure they practice COVID-19 safety at school is to do their home-work.

Wash hands throughout the day with your children, and, as noted above, be a role model for good hygiene yourself. Teach them to sing their ABCs or a favorite song for at least 20 seconds, and to wash hands front, back, and between their fingers.

Your child will most likely be required to wear a face mask at school. Start having them get used to it by wearing a mask at home for, say, 20 minutes at a time, then an hour, then extending that time daily. Also, teach them not to touch the inside of a mask when putting it on or taking it off, and to remove it only by touching the straps or ties. Make or buy multiple face masks, so your child can rotate between washings, and label each one with your child’s name.

Related content: Video: Best practices for face masks and coverings

Finally, practice practicing social distancing. Since children will likely be asked to maintain a six-foot distance at school, all day long, get them ready by measuring the distance on the floor at home to show them what it looks like. Consider laying down pieces of tape or paper for visual aids.

2. Keep immunizations up-to-date.

We understand if the last thing you want to do right now is bring your child into a health care setting. But it’s important to keep your child on their immunization schedule .The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers useful information about vaccinations during COVID-19, which they consider to be an essential service during the pandemic. Some providers may offer designated well-child hours – dedicated time for families to bring children in for routine care like vaccines – so you should call ahead and ask about these times.

It’s important to get a flu shot each season, especially this one. The flu shot does not protect against COVID-19, but it can reduce the risk of the flu and its complications. (Think of it as another layer of defense to help prevent missed school days.) Make a flu shot appointment with your child’s pediatrician, and if possible, schedule an annual wellness exam, too. After all, a healthy immune system starts with a healthy kid.

Related content: Video: Your Guide to the Annual Flu Vaccine

3. Make sure your kids are packed and prepared.

If your child is returning to school in-person, give them a reusable water bottle (labeled with your child’s name) since school water fountains are probably closed. Touchless stations and sinks may be accessible to students instead.

Also, before school each day, pack a clean mask (and back-up mask), and a resealable bag for storing the mask when your child isn’t wearing it, such as lunchtime.

If your child has asthma, make sure they have the proper equipment. Nebulizers and inhalers without a chamber may not be administered at school at this time, so you’ll want to speak with your child’s pediatrician.

And don’t forget to verify and update emergency contacts. If your child feels ill at school and you are unavailable, the nurse must be able to reach someone right away—whether that’s a caregiver, a relative, or a close family friend.

4. Always have a thermometer on hand.

This one may seem small, but it’s important not only to the health of your child and family, but also to everyone at your school – and the school’s ability to continue holding in-person classes.

Check your child’s temperature every morning. If it’s 100 degrees or higher, you’ll need to keep them home from school.

5. Build physical activity into every day.

With more unstructured time on their hands, and shifting schedules, it’s easy for children and adolescents to fall into some not-so-great habits: using screens, being sedentary, eating poorly, and developing irregular sleep patterns.

Exercise helps a lot. A healthy body promotes a healthy mindset. Do yoga together, go for a walk around your neighborhood, play basketball or soccer (or another sport your child loves), ask them to do jumping jacks—anything to get their bodies active during the day.

Especially if your child is doing hybrid or remote learning, the absence of a P.E. class might take a toll. So get moving often and keep things fun: Turn on some great music and have an impromptu family dance party.

Plus, this one comes with Oscar bonus points for moms and dads: track all those steps you’re taking with your kids from Google Fit and Apple Health and earn $1 toward an Amazon® Gift Card for every day that you hit your step goal, up to $100 per year.

6. Establish a "normal" routine at home.

Reliable routines give children a sense of structure and safety. Encourage your child to wake up and go to bed around the same time each day, including weekends, and practice good hygiene at home. Set aside regular time for different activities they can look forward to, and block off time for chores.

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