Last spring, many children went back to school after enduring more than 12 months of distance learning due to COVID-19. Alternatively, some families opted for their children to continue the school year online. Now, as the COVID-19 vaccine has proven effective, and the reopening of businesses has expanded, it’s more important than ever to talk to your kids about the past year, alleviate their concerns about the disease and prepare them to head back to in-person school this August.
There is a lot you can do to ease your children’s fears about returning to school and the loosening of restrictions. First and foremost, we need to acknowledge our children’s concerns and explain what has happened during this pandemic, and what will happen, in words that are appropriate for each child’s developmental stage. Here are some tips to help you make that transition less stressful for your kids:
- Smile, smile and smile. Talk about going back to school as an exciting event. Kids absorb a lot of their parents’ expressions and emotions. If they see you talking about it with joy, they will think to themselves, “If my mom and dad seem happy about it, it must be OK. I trust my parents!”
- Reassure with facts. Most kids who have contracted the COVID-19 virus experienced only mild symptoms. Reassure your children that since they are eating a healthy diet, exercising and sleeping well, their immune systems will stay strong in fighting this virus in case they are exposed to it, just like it does with many other viruses (e.g. cold, flu) that they are exposed to on a daily basis.
- Keep up safety measures. It is important to let your kids know that they might still need to wear masks at school, wash their hands often and continue to practice social distancing. Please tell them that they have a responsibility to keep others safe, in addition to protecting themselves. Make them feel like they are heroes in the fight against this virus and that in doing their part, they are protecting their friends and loved ones. Let them know, though, that this will not last forever, and hopefully won’t be required once COVID-19 cases have dropped down to very low levels.
- Educate them about the vaccine. Reassure your children that a lot of scientists have worked really hard to create a vaccine. Some kids have already received it and others will receive it. The vaccine is very effective, and we are already seeing COVID-19 cases dropping as more people get vaccinated. You may explain in simple terms how the vaccine protects them from COVID-19 by stimulating their immune response, which is done by creating tiny soldiers in their bodies who are ready to fight the virus in case they get exposed to it. Let them know that this vaccine, like a lot of other vaccines they have received before, has been proven to be safe.
- Look to the future. In addition to working on a vaccine, scientists are also actively researching new medications to treat this virus, just like they did for the influenza (flu) virus. Hopefully in the near future, an effective medication for children will be available that will help them if they get really sick from COVID-19.
Heading back to school this fall is an important milestone in our recovery from the pandemic. These tips are yet another tool we have to fight this virus and calm all of our nerves. If you have specific questions and concerns related to COVID-19, please do not hesitate to contact your pediatrician. We are your family’s partner in fighting this pandemic!
Diala Faddoul, M.D., is a pediatrician with Descanso Pediatrics – Huntington Health Physicians.