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It is an important question many parents are asking themselves: Is my child prepared to return to school for in-person learning following months stuck at home and remote learning?
Now that teachers are being vaccinated and schools are welcoming students back on campus, medical and mental health experts say it is critically important to prepare children for this change. The key, they stress, is not to rush or pressure children when it comes to adjusting to a new learning and social environment. They also note it is important to explain the safety precautions children need to take to better protect their health once they return to the classroom.
If safety precautions are followed, and parents communicate clearly with their children about how to stay safe by following simple steps, children are more likely to thrive and readjust well to their new learning and social environments, health officials say.
From a mental health perspective, Dr. Juan-Carlos Zuberbuhler, a board-certified child/adolescent/adult psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles, believes most children can adjust well to their new school environment with support from their parents or guardians.
“Children may need time to adjust mentally to this change,” said Dr. Zuberbuhler. “At first, some children may feel upset and anxious about going back to a lifestyle they’ve forgotten. Try to remain patient and positive as your child adjusts to their new environment.”
“There will also be those students who are excited and looking forward to going back to school,” he added. “It may help to capture their excitement and ask them to capture what they love about returning to school, either through conversations or writing, so that when the ‘honeymoon’ of returning to school wears off, they can be reminded about how much they missed being at school and to compare it to how much they missed it when it was purely online.”
Dr. Zuberbuhler also suggests keeping the lines of communications open between parents and their child to help them feel safe and supported.
“Ask them if they have any questions or concerns when they think about going back to school. If they seem scared of getting sick, take time to talk about their specific fears and how some of the changes at their school will help keep them safe,” he explains. “You may also want to take this time to remind them of ways they are in control of their own health and how washing their hands frequently, wearing a mask, and not sharing food with their peers is important.”
“We have seen very few children hospitalized due to COVID-19 since most of them typically show mild symptoms,” said Dr. Mark Salzman, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles. “A very small percentage of children who have COVID-19 will develop an inflammatory syndrome about one month later, but this happens in only about one in several thousand children and can be treated in the hospital.”
As more teachers become vaccinated, COVID-19 outbreaks at schools should be uncommon since most outbreaks in the past have been more commonly from adult staff rather than children, explained Dr. Salzman. He also noted that if a child shows any symptoms, they should be tested before returning to school even if their symptoms are mild.
“Currently the community transmission rate for COVID-19 is the lowest it has been for many months,” he added. “The benefits of in-person learning outweigh the small risks for children if standard public health guidelines are followed.”
About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve 12.4 million members in 8 states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists, and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery, and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education, and the support of community health.