How to prepare children to return to school?

Dr Anjana Kannoth, Paediatrics and Neonatology (Specialist), Aster Hospital, Mankhool

With schools intending to re-open in September in UAE, there are a few aspects that parents can keep in mind while preparing their young ones to go back to their old routine in the New Normal.

Tackling the challenge of returning to school and following of routine after so long:

  • Begin preparing them for school, weeks ahead of the actual re-opening: Waking up as per school hours, going to bed early, could be some ways to bring back the routine in their lives. This will help in easy transition from being at home all day to going to school every day. Help your children stick to their routines and make learning playful. Make certain that a good portion of leisure time activity is active, both mentally and physically.
  • Assure them of safety at school: Children, may worry or feel scared to return back to school after all the news and speculations about how deadly the pandemic has been. Parents can talk to them and educate them about the virus. The more informed children are, the better they will be able to deal with the situation.
  • Social stress: Meeting teachers and friends after a long time may be overwhelming for children, especially younger ones. Phone calls with friends or connecting with teachers over the phone may allow to break the ice that may have built up from staying at home so that they do not feel awkward when they meet in school.
  • Communication: Talk to your child as much as possible and answer any question he/she may have. Address their queries and concerns and take time to comfort them and give them affection so that they can go to school without any worries. Reassure them that they are safe and praise them frequently.
  • In case of any death in the family due to COVID – 19, stay with your child and help him in the grieving process. Seek help if you notice any changes in behavior or mood and address the concerns before school re-opens to avoid adding any more pressure on him/her.

Dealing with children who do not like to wear masks

It may be especially difficult for parents with children studying in primary grades or younger to explain to them the importance of wearing masks.

  • In such cases, do not force your child to wear masks. Instead try and make it a part of routine which should be as easy as wearing the school id card.
  • Try practicing at home with them. Children usually tend to mimic adults and will be encouraged to wear masks if they see you wear them too. Make wearing masks a fun thing to do rather than being stern about it.

Dealing with social distancing and its impact on children

As social distancing is becoming the way of life, it is essential that our children understand this as well. The first and foremost thing is to explain to them why this is necessary. Simply telling them to follow social distancing will not be enough.

Older children are used to connecting with one another through social media, so social distancing should not be very difficult for them to adhere to. Parents of pre-teens and teenagers need to understand that while family support and presence is essential, they also need to provide time-out to their children from the constant presence of the family around them. Connecting with peers and spending some self-time may be good for them.

However, younger children, especially those who are still in primary school need to be tended to, as social distancing may lead to lack in social development. Parents can undertake a number of initiatives such as:

  • Interactive play: Instead of just placing children in front of screens, parents and family members can involve themselves at home through playing board games together, doing household chores together, spending time together before going to bed talking about each other’s day, etc.
  • Encourage exercise: Children may be facing stress during these unprecedented times which we as parents may fail to see. Encourage physical activities and exercises through which children can vent out extra energy and frustration.

Safely using public spaces in school such as washrooms

Basic hygiene etiquette habits can be taught to children which can be regularly practiced at home to make them a habit:

  • Washing hands after using the toilet and disposing off used tissue papers in the dustbin
  • Sanitizing hands after touching door handles
  • Teaching them to sing ‘Happy birthday’ 2 times may be a fun way for them to remember how long to wash their hands for.
  • Practicing not to touch hands and mouth often or not taking off the mask.

Safety precautions for eating at school

  • Encourage children to carry sanitizers with them when at school. During lunch breaks or before eating anything, teach them to wash their hands and sanitize them.
  • When masks are taken off, teach them to place masks on a clean surface or wear it around their necks.
  • Teach them to maintain social distance and other basic habits like coughing with their mouths closed or sneezing into a tissue paper or the corner of their elbow.
  • Make sure you provide your children with lunchboxes, water bottles and cutlery and encourage them not to share cups, utensils, food or drinks with others.

Advice for parents

Beginning school during this pandemic is not just stressful for children, but can also be equally intimidating for parents. Make sure you are well informed about the guidelines issued by the school and are able to communicate the same with the children. Do not hesitate and reach out to the school, in case you have any queries.

  • Especially for younger children, extra care should be taken as they tend to forget things. As a parent, train them early by means of interactive games and songs.
  • Children learn best from what they see adults do. Therefore, it is essential to follow COVID guidelines at home so that children have time to form a habit before they begin school.
  • Don’t keep children in the dark, treat them like understanding adults and share age appropriate information with them.
  • Model good practices with them regarding washing and sanitizing your hands, wearing the mask, maintaining distance and other basic hygiene etiquettes.
  • Discourage stigmatizing or finger-pointing anyone about being sick.
  • Teach them to be able to identify and understand if they are feeling sick and encourage them to inform their teacher immediately without any panic or fear.