The COVID-19 pandemic has left everyone adapting to a “new normal.” So inevitably, back-to-school season will look far different this year. 

Most Canadian schools are opening in September, albeit with slight differences from province to province and school board to school board. But that means parents will be:

  • stocking up on hand sanitizer and masks in addition to school supply staples, 
  • reminding kids to wait their turn and share, and 
  • helping children understand the new rules surrounding hygiene and social distancing. 

With so much to do, you may be wondering how you can prepare your kids for going back to school or daycare post-quarantine. Here are some tips to help get you started. 

1. Talk to your child about COVID-19 and explain how germs are spread 

Many kids may feel confused or scared by what they’ve heard about the latest coronavirus. So take the time to describe the virus in simple terms. For example, you could say, “COVID-19 is germs that make people sick. And, they can spread easily as they jump from hand to hand.”

If someone they know does end up getting sick, separate the illness from the person, suggests Robbin McManne, a parent coach in British Columbia. 

“This is a great opportunity to teach your kids kindness and compassion. Emphasize it’s the virus that is the problem,” McManne says. “And, although the people who have it can make us sick, they are victims, not villains.”

2. Practice social distancing for school or daycare

From social distancing to masks, it’s hard for kids to grasp the importance of many of our “new normal” behaviours. “That’s why there’s an additional item on the back-to-school safety checklist for parents,” says McManne. “And that’s finding out as much as you can about your school’s protocol.” 

“Big changes might feel scary to your kids,” she says. “So prepare them with the facts and empower them by telling them their role in helping keep themselves, their classmates and their teachers safe by following the rules and washing hands.”

She recommends drawing a picture of what a socially-distanced classroom might look like. You can also role-play the school environment, complete with masks, to help them prepare.

3. Teach kids about proper hygiene

Kids (and adults!) are masters of the quick hand rinse, yet that’s not enough to kill germs. 

Work with them to practice really scrubbing thoroughly as they wash their hands, making sure to rub the palms together and interlace the fingers to catch all the hot spots, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Use a tune like the “happy birthday” or alphabet song to demonstrate the length of a proper scrub session.

Then talk to them about how to avoid touching surfaces like door handles and handrails. And, remind them that they should sanitize immediately if they do. 

You can even make it easier for them to stay healthy by:

  • providing personal school supplies and 
  • packing utensils to use with their lunch so they don’t have to eat with their hands 

4. Help your child get used to wearing a mask

They may love to wear a mask at Halloween. But kids in Canada aren’t yet used to a face covering in their day-to-day lives. So help up the fun factor by letting them select one with a bright print or beloved storybook character. 

Emphasize that they need to wear a mask until a teacher or parent says they can remove it. For example, some kids might need to wear one on the school bus. But they may not have to wear one when outside or physically distanced in their classroom. Stress that it’s a safety item, just like a car seat or seat belt, to deter complaints.  

Then show them how to correctly wear and care for the mask, as instructed by the WHO. That means washing hands before putting it on and adjusting it to cover the mouth, nose and chin with no gaps. 

Provide a zip top bag or other holder to keep the mask sanitary when your child isn’t wearing it. You’ll also want to caution them to wash their hands before and after removing it. 

Wash the mask daily or swap it out for another one, and remind them never to share their mask. 

5. Ease your child’s (and your own) fears about going back to school during COVID-19

Reassure them that while school might feel a little different this year, these new routines are all part of back-to-school safety tips. Remind them that these safety measures are designed to keep them, their classmates, teachers and community healthy. 

It might feel odd for your kids to see their teacher and other caregivers wearing masks. But point out that behind the face covering are the same friendly smiles and helping attitudes they’re used to. 

McManne also suggests checking in with your kids regularly to see how they’re feeling. “Let them know you’re open to talking about their worries and questions anytime,” she adds. 

Plus, be sure to take a minute to acknowledge your own fears. Remember that while kids are resilient and most will be fine, they can also pick up on a parent’s anxiety or fear. 

“Your kids will look to you to give them answers. So it’s important you manage your own emotions,” McManne says. “Take a few deep breaths, center yourself and lean into the conversation.”

Just remember, the more you talk to your kids about safety as they head back to school, the more comfortable they’ll feel.

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