If your family includes school-age children, you probably welcome August with mixed emotions, but this year is different since we’re still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because most kids won’t be able to get COVID-19 vaccines this school year, parents may be feeling more nervous than usual about sending their children back to school – and that’s perfectly normal. But there are many reasons why you should allow yourself to feel at ease about back to school this year.

First of all, its important to remember how beneficial in-person school is for kids – in-person learning is how children learn best. School is a stimulating, collaborative and enriching environment and it provides many children access to healthy meals as well as access to the internet for continued, modern learning.

Second, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has stated that evidence suggests that many K-12 schools that have strictly implemented prevention strategies have been able to safely open for in-person instruction and remain open. Additionally, the CDC has recommended that schools continue to use the current COVID-19 prevention strategies for the 2021 school year.

We are in a new normal and things will be different this school year, but we can still decide to make this the best school year ever. What would that look like – and how can we make that happen? In addition to providing your children the unconditional love and support you always do and helping put their minds at ease, you can create an environment that gives your child a great chance to thrive.

Here are some ways you can prepare for a healthy back to school season this year.

  1. Wash your hands regularly. By now we all know this! Yet, we need to continue to emphasize the importance of handwashing to our children. At school, they are going to be exposed to viruses and bacteria other students are carrying with them. While most of these germs may be harmless, washing your hands often significantly helps reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses. According to the CDC, hands should be washed with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Since most kids won’t time themselves, a handy shortcut is to have your child sing or hum a song as they wash their hands. Choose from classics like ‘Twinkle Twinkle’, ‘Jingle Bells’, ‘Happy Birthday’ (sing this one tune twice)–or be creative and make up a catchy tune. You can even assign a song for them to wash throughout the day. For older kids that want to avoid being labeled “that kid who sings nursery rhymes”, have them sing or hum the first verse of their favorite song, then sing the chorus as they rinse— to themselves if they prefer.
  2. Wear masks correctly. Since children aren’t eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine yet, you may choose to have your student wear a mask while in school to protect themselves and other children from COVID-19. It’s a good idea to send 1 or 2 additional masks with your children in their backpack in case the one they’re wearing falls off, they lose it, or if one of the straps break. You should choose masks made for children that have two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric and that fit snugly against the sides of the face without gaps. Show your children the right way to wear their masks, it should always be covering their nose and mouth.
  3. Get your immunizations.Immunizations play an integral role in preventative care, so much that some schools will not permit students to attend unless there is documentation verifying that vaccinations are up-to-date. According to the CDC, every state has certain immunizations requirements, so be sure to speak with your Primary or Pediatric care physician to see if new vaccinations have been added or simply schedule an appointment to have them done.
  4. Get into a routine. Kids (and adults) operate better on a routine, especially throughout the school year. During the summer, we often shift into a lax state and become carefree regarding sleep hours as well as bedtime schedules. Starting the school year off sleep-deprived can leave your child’s immune system susceptible to infections or viruses. As a way to smoothly transition into the school year, reinstate all routines a week prior to starting school. Your student will adjust accordingly and won’t go through the day feeling sluggish or overly exhausted. And for those tech-savvy parents, there are plenty of apps to help establish a healthy routine. Try Sleep Genius or Digipill.
  5. Establish healthy eating habits. Nutrition fuels students throughout their day, so eating right—and on schedule–should be a priority. Though scheduled meals can prove to be a bit challenging at first, planning your weekly meals on Saturday, then executing them on Sunday will help both you and your student(s) and encourage healthy eating habits. As childhood obesity continues to present a greater health risk, providing your child with healthier options will not only combat energy deficiency but will also help manage their weight. The USDA also encourages that children eat a healthy breakfast every morning. Being the first meal of the day, breakfast improves concentration as well as performance in the classroom. Lastly, consuming a diet filled with colorful vegetables and fruits in addition to the nine to ten hours of adequate rest will help combat infections.
  6. Get a checkup.Your family doctor should be your partner in managing the health of your family. A regular checkup is a great way to identify any issues early, answer questions you might have, and develop a custom wellness plan based on your child’s unique makeup.

 Following these tips will help you and your family maintain a healthy environment at home and at school. However, if your child becomes sick or shows signs of illness consistent with COVID-19, keep your child at home, inform the school of the possible infection, and take your child to get a COVID-19 PCR test to confirm whether they have the virus. Read more from the CDC about what to do if a student becomes sick or reports a new COVID-19 diagnosis at school.

Even though we’re starting things off differently this year, remember to stay positive and be patient. We’re all coping with living in a new normal – we’re in this together. Trying to do everything at once can be challenging. Introduce one or two small changes at a time, and over time you’ll be surprised how much progress you’ve made.

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