Parents — anxiety about back-to-school is truly at an all-time high. And we get it — 2020 has been nothing short of chaos with COVID-19 taking over our year. Parenting is a full-time job in and of itself, but COVID-19 reshaping how we live and work. It has meant that you’ve had to suddenly juggle parenting on top of homeschooling and a full-time job. Even writing that out is stressful.
And listen, no one knows yet whether kids will be able to go back to school just yet. Many college campuses have already said their Fall 2020 semester will be fully virtual. While many public schools are...well... let’s just say that the jury is still out.
So with that, we wanted to be sure we gave you the best science about how to prepare your kids for back-to-school, even if the “school” in question is just going to be in your living room.
Teach your child to wash their hands regularly
Germs are everywhere. Some germs are okay, and some germs, well, let’s just say you’d want to best avoid those.
Germs can spread when you touch your face — mouth, nose, or eyes; when you blow your nose or cough and then touch other things/people; when you eat food without washing your hands first; when you touch something contaminated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following five steps for handwashing: wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry.
The scrub phase is the most critical. During the scrub phase, teach your child to sing the happy birthday song (or a tune equivalent to 20 seconds) to make sure that they get everything (under the nails, behind the knuckles, everything).
To build the habit of regular handwashing…
- Try and make it a family activity — lead by example and use positive reinforcement as encouragement.
- Make it a regular habit — after petting the dog, playing outside, using the restroom, etc.
Talk to your child about social distancing
Humans are a social species — working together in tribes and keeping lifelong friends. When we think of social distancing, it honestly goes against our evolution; it’s not a natural thing for us to do by any means.
But as you know, it’s still necessary during this pandemic to help flatten the curve/slow the spread of COVID-19. However, it’s not an easy concept for kids to understand. So here’s how we recommend you explain it to them:
Be clear, and talk to them like an adult. For example, if they ask, “what is social distancing?” you can say, “Social distancing might sound weird, but it’s simple — keep 6 feet distance from friends/strangers/people that don’t live here with us. If you’re not sure what 6 feet look like, pretend that your dad is laying on the floor in between you and the other person.”
If they ask, “Why do we need to do this?” You can say something like, “Well, there’s a virus that’s affecting the entire world right now, and it spreads when a sick person coughs, sneezes, talks, etc. If you stay 6 feet away, doctors say that you’ll be a safe distance away from the droplets they might be spreading — out of the virus’ reach. Just try to be careful when you’re out there in the world, whether that’s with me at the grocery store or at school. So we’ll need to stay connected with friends over Zoom for a while. You’ll also need to make sure you’re washing your hands for 20 seconds after you touch anything, and before you eat anything. Never drink out of the water fountain, and if you feel scared, ask your teacher for help.”
The CDC has many additional recommendations for social distancing, as well.
What to tell them so they stay safer during recess
This applies to recess, but it also applies to gym class, lunchtime, nap time — anything that involves the potential of being in close quarters with others.
So, here’s what to tell your child:
- Wear a mask at all times — don’t take it off for any reason unless you’re eating. And when you’re eating, observe social distancing (6 feet) away from your friends. It may feel a little funny at first, but it is so you can be safer
- Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze — if possible, sneeze or cough into your elbow or directly into your mask — but never cough or sneeze without covering it first. When you’re done, make sure you wash your hands.
- Bring disinfectant wipes with you — make sure you wipe down all surfaces, your desk, and your chair before each class. Tell them to not worry about feeling weird or awkward about it, and if they need to, they can arrive a few minutes early to their class so that no one sees. And disinfect/wipe down any play areas, jungle gyms, etc. before playing on it.
- Bring a thermometer to school — this will be great to monitor for potential fever throughout the day. If a fever is detected, they can call the nurse’s office and go home immediately.
Avoid public drinking fountains
Drinking fountains should be avoided like the, well, plague. The amount of germs on public water fountains is honestly shocking. According to a recent report published by Penn State that focused on sanitation in public elementary schools, “...more bacteria was in drinking fountains, not bathrooms. In their study, 2.7 million bacterial cells were found per square inch.”
The bacteria found included E.Coli, legionella, coliform, among others. These are not your average bacteria either — they’re known to cause vomiting, headaches, fevers, among other symptoms. Yikes.
Instead of using a drinking water fountain in school, encourage your child to bring a reusable water bottle with them instead. Bonus points if it filters water on the go, but if not, anything is better than drinking from the school’s water fountain.
No matter what happens, going to school or any sort of social/public event will be a tricky thing for your child to navigate. Especially when, on top of that, all those old social norms might make them feel just awkward or weird enough from taking proper precautions at say, recess or lunchtime. And you can’t be there 100 percent of the time to monitor them. But by practicing these good habits at home first, you can help build up a little muscle memory for when the time comes.