Preparing Children for a New School Year in a Pandemic

Preparing Children for a New School Year in a Pandemic

Children returning to school is always a special time of year. But due to COVID-19, this fall may be particularly challenging. The transition from in-school classes to online learning has been abrupt. It’s been a major adjustment for parents, children and their teachers alike. Here are some tips on how everyone can better prepare themselves for what’s ahead.

Establish a Routine

After months away, the expectation of a traditional school schedule may seem overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to start practicing time management now, specifically in the mornings and at night. Begin by implementing the following behaviors:

  • Gradually adjust bedtime to be 15 minutes earlier each night. Grade school students need 9 to 12 hours of sleep. If a child must be awake at 6 a.m., their bedtime should be around 8 p.m.
  • Have an evening schedule with limits that allows free time outside of homework.
  • Set time restrictions for all electronics.
  • Unplug at least an hour before bedtime.

Prepare for Online Learning

While virtual classes aren’t necessarily new, they may be a larger and more permanent part of the school year. Here are four ways to set children up for success:

  • Create a dedicated workspace with limited distractions. It should be equipped with all the materials and supplies necessary for learning.
  • Reach out to your child’s school and their teacher. Ask about online learning and study guides. Focus on important subject matter and look for additional information on upcoming lessons.
  • Remember to encourage movement and breaks throughout the day.
  • Set time limits for online classes and study.

Schedule a Doctor’s Appointment

Regular doctor’s visits are critical to tracking growth, development and obtaining recommended vaccinations. This includes influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, rotavirus, polio, pneumonia and meningitis, among others. Throughout COVID-19, many routine checkups have been postponed. But it’s more important than ever to maintain these visits. Ask your doctor about their current safety protocols and if telehealth is a viable option. Learn what is required and follow the necessary precautions.

Understand Mental Health Challenges

This school year will likely change how students learn and interact. That means a disruption in traditional activities and less face-to-face socialization with friends. For some, this could be a difficult adjustment that takes a serious toll. Children are often resilient, but parents and caregivers should watch for subtle warning signs of potential problems:

  • Behavioral Changes: These could include tiredness, insomnia or oversleeping, as well as changes in appetite. The child may also have body aches or headaches, practice poor hygiene, engage in risky behavior, self-harm or substance use.
  • Emotional Changes: These could include feelings of sadness, hopelessness and a loss of interest in usual activities. Children may also have low self-esteem, guilt and a fixation on past failures. Some can be extremely sensitive to rejection, and experience thoughts of suicide.

If symptoms persist and interfere with a child’s normal routine, contact a mental health professional. Look for someone who specializes in children and adolescent behavior (like a psychiatrist, psychologist or a specialist in behavioral health). There are also additional resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Parents can also utilize Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s free crisis hotline at 833-848-1764. The service is available to both members and non-members.  

Dr. T. Jann Caison-Sorey, M.D., is a senior medical director at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health tips, visit AHealthierMichigan.org.

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