How Should I Prepare My Kids That Are Going Back to School During COVID-19?

Medically Reviewed on 8/23/2021

As you start preparing your kids for back to school during COVID-19, there are some ways like wearing a mask and handwashing that can help keep them safe and healthy.
As you start preparing your kids for back to school during COVID-19, there are some ways like wearing a mask and handwashing that can help keep them safe and healthy.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic isn't over, widespread vaccines and a growing understanding of how the coronavirus spreads are allowing schools to offer in-person learning this fall. Many kids and parents are looking forward to getting back to school, even if there are still some concerns around COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made it clear: students do their best learning when they're in a classroom, and the return to in-person instruction has been a big priority. 

As you start preparing your kids for back to school during COVID-19, there are some ways you can help keep them safe and healthy.

Should my kids wear a mask at school?

With the Delta variant of COVID-19 on the rise, experts are recommending that everyone over the age of two should wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth when they are indoors. The American Academy of Pediatrics, in agreement with the CDC, says that all children and adults should be wearing masks in school (unless medical or developmental conditions don't allow it). 

They point to a few reasons that they're endorsing this stance as kids go back to school during COVID-19:

  • Many students are too young to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Monitoring vaccine status among large groups of students and staff is very difficult.
  • It's nearly impossible to monitor vaccine status and enforce masks exclusively for unvaccinated people.
  • Variants of COVID-19 may spread more easily among young people, and masks are an easy way to slow the transmission.

An added benefit of mask-wearing is the prevention of other respiratory illnesses that are often spread around schools, like the common cold and the flu.

The CDC offers a few tips on picking out the mask that will work best for your school-age kids to protect them from coronavirus:

  • Choose masks that are made for children; they're more likely to fit well.
  • Choose masks that have two or more layers of breathable fabric.
  • Ensure it covers your child's mouth and nose completely.
  • Ensure that it fits snugly against the sides of their face and chin — no gaps.
  • Choose a mask with a nose wire to prevent air from leaking out from the top of the mask.
  • Avoid masks that are made from fabric that is hard to breathe through.
  • Avoid masks that have valves or vents.

‌Experts recommend washing masks after each wear. Make sure your child has plenty of masks when they head back to school during COVID-19 so that they can be brought home and cleaned after each day of use.

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Teach your kids to wash their hands the right way

Handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of many germs that cause illness, including COVID-19.

Make sure your child knows to wash their hands frequently, including:

  • Before eating
  • Before touching their mouth, eyes, or nose
  • Before touching a cut or scrape
  • After going to the bathroom
  • After touching pets, animals, or pet food
  • After playing outdoors or on a playground
  • After being close to a person who is sick
  • After touching garbage

There are four easy steps to proper handwashing.

Get hands wet and add soap. Use clean, running water. Put soap on your hands and rub to make suds.

Rub for at least 20 seconds. An easy way to know just how long to wash is to sing "Happy Birthday" or "The Alphabet Song" twice. Make sure to clean your palms, backs of your hands, in between your fingers, and under your fingernails, too.

Rinse clean. Run your hands under clean water and rub to get all of the soap off.

Dry. Shake your hands, and then dry them fully on a clean paper towel or under a hand dryer.

Is hand sanitizer good for kids?

Experts agree: handwashing is the most thorough way to get your hands germ-free. If soap and water aren't easily accessible, alcohol-based hand sanitizing gel can be useful. However, it isn't as effective as soap in removing all of the germs from your hands, including some kinds of viruses.

While it may be a good idea to pack some hand sanitizer for your older kid, make sure they understand that it's not a substitute for old-fashioned handwashing.

Warn your children to maintain physical distancing

Remind your kids that going back to school during COVID-19 means continuing to keep as much distance from their teachers and classmates as possible. Of course, it's not always easy, but studies show that distancing in combination with mask-wearing keeps COVID-19 transmission rates in school very low.

Encourage your kids to opt for outside whenever it's a choice. While it's not impossible to catch COVID-19 outdoors, the transmission rates of the virus appear to be much lower in outdoor spaces.

Ensure your kids sleep well and eat well

Getting plenty of high-quality sleep is key for a strong, healthy immune system. Making sure your kids are well-rested can go a long way towards keeping them healthy when going back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Similarly, eating a healthy, balanced diet can help your kids maintain a strong immune system.

Remember that mental health matters

In addition to keeping an eye on your child's physical health and wellbeing when they go back to school during COVID-19, it's also important to watch for the impact of the pandemic on their mental health. Experts have observed an increase in children experiencing depression, anxiety, anger, elevated stress, and other emotional reactions to this challenging situation.

If you believe that your child isn't coping well with the stress of going back to school during COVID-19, reach out to their school or doctor to learn more about mental health resources in your area.

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Medically Reviewed on 8/23/2021
References

American Academy of Pediatrics: "COVID-19 Guidance for Safe Schools.", "Mental Health During COVID-19: Signs Your Child May Need More Support.", "Safe Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools.", "Your Guide to Masks."

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Nutrition and Immunity."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Coronavirus: How to Care for Your Face Mask."

Northwestern Medicine: "Hand Washing vs Hand Sanitizer: Which is better at fighting COVID-19?"

Pflügers Archiv - European Journal of Physiology: "Sleep and immune function."

University of Rochester Medical Center: "Teaching Kids to Wash Their Hands."

World Health Organization: "Episode #40 - Transmission indoors and outdoors.", "Handwashing an effective tool to prevent COVID-19, other diseases."