For many children, in-person school has already begun or is starting soon – for the first time in over a year. After restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and months of virtual learning, hybrid learning, or other atypical versions of learning, parents and school faculty are gearing up for a new scholastic year.
Many parents may be wondering: How do we prepare our children? How do I prepare myself? Is my child behind in school? Is my child safe? Who do I talk to about this?
All of these are legitimate concerns parents may have as they send their children back to the classroom. The answers may vary by individual, so we always recommend that you first touch base with your pediatrician. Your pediatrician knows you and your child best.
However, there are several general recommendations you can follow to stay safe this school year.
What The American Academy of Pediatrics Recommends
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the nation’s leading association of pediatricians, published updated COVID-19 guidance in July 2021 for a safe return to school. As part of their updated recommendations, the AAP strongly recommends in-person learning and urged eligible students, teachers, and staff to get vaccinated. Learn more about COVID-19 vaccination for children from a TopLine MD Alliance affiliated pediatrician.
“We need to prioritize getting children back into schools alongside their friends and their teachers – and we all play a role in making sure it happens safely… The pandemic has taken a heartbreaking toll on children, and it’s not just their education that has suffered but their mental, emotional and physical health,” said Sonja O’Leary, MD, FAAP, chair of the AAP Council on School Health, in the recent release.
In addition to vaccinations, the AAP and the CDC recommend that everyone older than age 2 wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, as part of a “layered approach to make school safe.”
Mentally Preparing Children (And Yourself)
It’s normal and expected for both kids and parents to feel nervous about being separated from one another, especially after months of social isolation. Whether a child is getting adjusted to a new classroom or if a mom or dad is having a harder time being separated from their child, your pediatrician can provide support during this time and help ease other anxieties.
Caregivers can also try a gradual approach to separation, such as leaving for greater increments of time leading up to the return to the school and commending children on independent behavior. It’s also important to validate children’s anxieties and fears, and reassure them that there are adults to support them at their new location, whether it’s a classroom or other in-person activities.
While quality education is important at every stage of a child’s life, focusing on emotional, psychological, and social competency can get kids off to their best start in the new school year. The CDC recommends talking with kids about how school may be different and help set their expectations. You can visit the CDC’s website for resources and tips for preparing for virtual, hybrid, or in-person learning.
The CDC also lists many excellent tips for parents who may have concerns about the upcoming school year, from special education evaluation, resources for stress management, and how to connect with early childhood educators to provide the extra support needed during this time of transition.
Whatever concern you may have, your pediatrician should have support resources, such as advice on how to handle if your child is behind in school, updating your children’s physicals, resources for continued educational concerns, or information on mental health support.
This new school year, there will be COVID-19 related challenges as new variants emerge and restrictions evolve. Call your pediatrician and ask about how you can work together to overcome any issues and ensure a safe and healthy school year.
Dr. Ana Hernandez-Puga is a proud member of the TopLine MD Alliance practicing pediatrics in Miami-Dade County.