Your Guide to Keeping Your Kids Healthy at School in 2020

Mother putting mask on daughter before school
Photo: 123rf

Like so many things, the best word to describe the upcoming 2020–2021 school year is “unprecedented.” Many families are still deciding on the best plans for their children and many school districts’ plans are still a work in progress. But, no matter what your children’s school year looks like, here are a few tips to keep them safe, happy, and healthy.

Masks are the hottest new accessories for the 2020–2021 school year—and, without question, one of the most important ways to protect everyone. COVID-19 is most often transmitted by respiratory droplets, which are transmitted by sneezing, coughing, and talking. These droplets get inhaled through our noses and find their way to our lungs. Cloth masks are a simple way to prevent this from happening. Masks should be worn most of the day (allowing for occasional, physically distanced breaks), even if your child is six feet from their nearest classmate. Remember to have a few cloth masks available and labeled for each of your children and remember to wash them frequently. Bonus—talking about masks becomes a good reminder to your kids on how to be a good citizen and protect their friends. 

Is your child having difficulty wearing a mask? Make a game out of mask wearing, put a mask on your child’s favorite teddy bear, or allow your kids to pick masks with characters or patterns they enjoy. You can also practice having them wear a mask at home before the school year begins. Some families have had success in only letting their children have their highly coveted screen time while they’re practicing wearing a mask.

Hand washing is also a crucial step in preventing COVID-19 and lots of other illnesses! Remind your children to wash their hands (or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) before and after eating, after using the bathroom, after adjusting and taking off masks, and during transition times (coming in from recess, getting in the car after school, etc.). Hand sanitizer is a valuable addition to this year’s school supply list.

Distancing matters! Encourage elbow bumps and air hugs over high fives, fist bumps, and real hugs. Remind your children (including and especially your teenagers) to keep their distance while in the hallways of school, or at more relaxed times in the classroom. Limit playdates to one or two children, and try to keep them outdoors whenever possible. When playing indoors, encourage your children and their friends to wear masks and wash their hands frequently. Don’t be afraid to ask your children’s friends what their rules are—and make sure that you feel comfortable with the answers before letting your kids stay close together. Remember to stick to virtual options for bigger gatherings.

Vaccinate! COVID-19 is not the only illness out there making people sick. Make sure your children are up to date on their vaccines and that they receive an influenza vaccine (flu shot) this season. 

Be mindful of your impact—if there is any question about your child being ill, please don’t send them to school. It may seem like overkill, but this is the time to be overly cautious. Check in with your pediatrician if there is any question and be transparent with your school if your child is infected.

Take a deep breath! This is going to be a roller coaster ride of a year! Remember that your kids will need time to adjust to new rules, new schedules, and new modes of learning. Stay alert and mindful of the challenges. Encourage your kids and stay in close touch with their teachers. This may be an unprecedented school year, but it can still be great!

Dr. Rina Meyer is a board certified pediatric hematologist-oncologist at Stony Brook Children’s and Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. Her views are her own and do not necessarily represent the views of Stony Brook Children’s and the Renaissance School of Medicine.

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