Getting Kids Ready for School in Person

Girl walking to school

As the sunny days of summer fade into fall, parents and kids face the start of another school year. The back-to-school season this year stands to look a little different than those in the past—especially since many students will be going back to in-person schooling for the first time in almost two years.

Some families are now wondering if it is safe to send their kids back for traditional schooling. Feeling nervous about the situation is normal, according to Julia Pederson, MD, a pediatrician at the Pediatric Group of Monterey. But she assured parents that it is possible.

“We have good evidence showing that we can safely have kids in school with appropriate measures and precautions, even if they’re not vaccinated,” she said.

Dr. Pederson suggested several ways parents and caregivers can help children get ready to go back to school.

Emotional support

Being present for our children emotionally is critical at this point in their lives. “We are the rock for our kids,” she said. “One of the most important things that we can do is just be there for them and recognize how they’re feeling.” Let them know that they have a safe place to express their feelings and fears with you.

The importance of masks

Although many vaccinated adults are allowed to forgo a mask in some places, consider wearing a mask in solidarity with your young ones who cannot get the vaccine yet. “If your kid is in a situation where they have to wear a mask this summer, I would go ahead and wear my mask too,” Dr. Pederson said.

For kids who are struggling with wearing a mask, she suggested finding creative ways to help them get comfortable with the mask. Letting them pick out a fun mask or even make their own can help it to be more manageable. “Let them know it’s not going to be forever,” Dr. Pederson said. “There will be an end to this.”

If your kid is always forgetting or losing his or her mask, similar strategies may work. The key is to make it fun and find ways to give children real choices. Ask your child what he or she needs. Maybe a mask station near the door or a sticky note on the fridge is all the nudge that’s needed. “Rather than making them in trouble for the fact that they lost their mask again for the 10th time or forgot to wash their hands again, engage them a little bit,” she said.

Remember to keep up good hygiene

Handwashing is still an important part of preventing infection from COVID-19. Remind kids to keep their hands clean, using soap and water when possible, or hand sanitizer. And it’s always a good idea to teach kids to cover coughs and sneezes.

Make time for reflection

Dr. Pederson recommends checking in with children regularly as they settle into their new routine. One strategy she uses with her own daughter is to take time to ask about the roses (highlights), thorns (challenges), and buds (what she’s looking forward to) for the day at dinner every night. “In pediatrics, we always say, ‘Prevention is the best medicine,’” she said. “Make it a practice early on to include some regular reflection in your family norms.”

Stay connected as a family

Between work and school, the family schedule is sure to be busy, but Dr. Pederson says it is important to make time for family fun. Taking a walk, playing a board game, and doing kid-friendly crafts can all help parents and children unwind and enjoy quality time together. “These little five-minute, 10-minute, one-hour things make a huge difference in kids’ lives,” she said.

Family togetherness can also help parents watch for signs that a child may need extra help or intervention from a medical professional. Reach out to your pediatrician if you notice changes in sleep patterns, stomachaches or headaches, bedwetting, or potty-training regressions. They could mean your child is stressed and needs extra support.

Be informed about the vaccine

Scientists are learning more about the COVID-19 disease and vaccine every day. The main takeaway so far is that the vaccine is indeed safe and effective for most people. “The vaccine data does show that the vaccine is highly effective in terms of both preventing illness and preventing complications. It’s shown that it’s been safe in healthy children in the age groups that it’s been studied in,” she said.

“COVID does have some serious risks to children and youth, and the unintended consequences of school disruption and isolation have huge, direct implications on development and well-being in children. COVID vaccination will help us get back to normal.”

She continued, “We don’t know what changes we’re going to have to make a month from now, but we know what we have to do today to keep ourselves safe. Tomorrow’s a new day.”

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