Plans for a return to in-person schooling are in flux in New Jersey and around the country as parents and educators look to safely navigate the coronavirus pandemic. Many districts have opted for virtual instruction at least for the beginning of the semester, while others have cobbled together hybrid models that call for some on-site teaching.
September 2020 will mark the beginning of a school year like no other, and the change and uncertainty is daunting for families. In-person school will look a lot different than when children abruptly left in March. There will be more social distancing, plexiglass partitions, and smaller class sizes and temperature checks. The “fun” parts of school – recess, gym, sports – likely will be absent.
Getting Ready for the Classroom
It is important to communicate with your district and your children, who may be overwhelmed by it all. If your kids are returning, try to prepare them for what the classroom and the school day will look like. Show them a picture, if possible, of their new classroom configuration.
And, of course, stress the importance of vigilance in mask wearing and hand washing. Explain to them why these protocols are so important and try to engage them in the process – letting them pick out mask designs - so it is not as much of a challenge to adhere to the guidelines.
Explain why it's especially important to follow the safety protocols indoors. If they are not doing so already, get them used to wearing a mask for a few hours a day before a return to school. Some have suggested linking mask use to screen time to motivate kids to keep the face coverings on.
Remember to Update Checkups and Vaccines
Importantly, whether your kids are returning or not, do not delay wellness visits to the doctor. Make sure they get their regular checkups and are up to date on vaccines. This year especially, it's important for your kids and the whole family to get your flu shots.
Talking with your kids is key in taking the edge off the anxiety they may be feeling. As the pandemic wears on, we have started to see more depression and anxiety in children who want to return to school in some way. They miss the socialization, and a return to normal routines is best for their emotional well-being. But, unfortunately, many students will have to wait months before they are back in their school buildings.
This is a fraught time for parents and students, requiring flexibility, adaptability and no small measure of good cheer from parents trying to conceal their own anxieties. Try to have your kids keep a routine and – although it may not seem like it – assure them that we will in fact return to something close to normal at some point. We will get through this.
Janet Tomeh Lazieh, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician with a special interest in infectious disease. Her office is in Fort Lee. To make an appointment, call 201-592-9210 or visit HolyNameMedicalPartners.org. She is also scheduling telemedicine appointments at NorthJerseyTelemedicine.com.