COVID-19 began as a relatively unknown virus at the beginning of 2020. It has snowballed into a pandemic impacting every part of our lives, especially for families with school-age children.
As schools begin rolling out their back-to-school plans, families are experiencing difficult decisions: Should they send children to school, should they use virtual schooling, or should they homeschool? But whatever the choice, the overarching question remains: How do they keep their children safe? There are proactive ways to make the best out of the situation.
Teach children facts about COVID
It’s natural for parents to try and protect their children from scary news items. However, in the age of COVID, most families will be impacted. It’s best to educate children about the virus in an age-appropriate manner.
Make COVID learning fun so it sticks with your child. As with many chores, making work into a song does wonders. Younger children tend to enjoy the task more when a little song and dance accompany it.
Play into your child’s love of science by teaching the biology behind a coronavirus. Teach about what a virus is, what it does, what it looks like, and its size. Children need reliable information to make sense of what’s happening. Art also has a positive impact on decreasing long term trauma. Creating art gives children a voice when they don’t quite have the words to express themselves. COVID artwork is no exception.
PBS Kids has some great resources focusing on illness in general. They also have COVID-specific information for supporting children. Two physicians even created a song to teach children how to stay safe against the virus. It’s pretty catchy, and that’s what we want.
It’s all about planning
One of the best ways to deal with the unknown is to be proactive with what is known. After educating children on the basics of hygiene, social distancing, and mask-wearing, help them problem solve potential issues.
What if a peer wants to trade masks? What if friends want to meet up and they’re not wearing masks? Help children work through problems yet to happen. Do some role-playing to help see where they need help coming up with solutions.
Most important, talk about safety, including feelings of security. Work out with your child a plan if they are not feeling safe at school. As some schools have opened, we are seeing pictures of children without masks in crowded hallways. Come up with a plan for reaching out to caregivers if they do not feel safe. Make sure the school is aware of your family’s plan.
Practice becomes a habit
Children do best when given time to practice. Don’t wait for re-entering school to teach them essential skills. While home, have them wash their hands when they touch their face, sneeze, or cough. Help make fun reminders or visual cues.
Practice fun ways to say hello or “way to go.” Hands-free high fives and ASL applause have become popular ways to send no-contact kudos. Educate children about social distancing so they will understand why teachers cannot give hugs. Know that teachers are having a difficult time with missed hugs.
For social distancing, hygiene, and other requirements, look at it like potty training. Provide more guidance as needed at first to correct and advise. Keep a schedule to ensure ample practice. With time, children will become more efficient and independent.
Work with the school staff
One of the best ways to lower concerns is to ask questions and work with school staff. The CDC guidelines are an easy checklist of questions to ask the school staff. Some items, like mask enforcement, can be challenging to execute.
Some things like disinfecting are more readily patrolled — ask about sanitizing procedures at the school. Also, clarify use and access to hand sanitizers. For younger children, ensure adult supervision for use.
Schools may require COVID testing, while others do not have the resources needed for this type of prevention. Some schools are doing temperature checks as children enter the campus. Other schools, again, do not have the funds for this undertaking.
This pandemic has brought unprecedented changes to schools that were already financially burdened. As many parents know, schools rely on donated items and school supplies. If you are able, request a list of needed supplies to see what you can give.
Advocate for your child.
Whether your child is on an Individual Service Plan or 504 plan, work with your child’s school to ensure adherence to laws. Special services are highly adaptable, especially in a virtual school setting. Ensure school staff are aware of your child’s needs and remind them as needed. If you need help, the Department of Education is your first stop for IEPs and 504s. The 504 plans fall under their civil rights department.
Children with special needs may require more support through hands-on help and guidance for hygiene. Children may require more visual cues like communication boards or social stories near the sink and sanitizer stations. Masks may also be a difficult requirement for children with cognitive deficiencies and sensory issues.
Children with anxiety and those with ASD may require more emotional support. All children can benefit from emotional check-ins throughout the day. Teachers can catch emotional dysregulation before it leads to significant behaviors like tantrums and shutting down. When possible, using outdoor settings not only lowers the transfer of the virus but also helps with emotional grounding.
COVID has left us with unstable foundations at work, at home, and school. Being proactive helps put a little control back in our hands. Keep tabs on local COVID numbers, surges, and hotspots and act accordingly. Most importantly, start at home and provide as much education as you can to your children. The more they know about prevention and safety against COVID, the better off they will be.
About the Author — Vivian Nelson Melle
Vivian Nelson Melle is a bilingual Master's level Community Counselor and Certified Clinician Trauma Specialist. Before counseling, Vivian was a cross-category special education educator, specializing in early childhood populations. Vivian enjoys helping children and families find balance amid all the chaos and hope in the darkness. She believes in nourishing children's passions as soon as they ignite.