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August 4, 2020

COVID Considerations: Preparing Your Child for a Healthy 2020 School Year

By Lou Romig MD, FAAP, FACEP Tampa Medical Director, After Hours Pediatrics Urgent Care

As summer comes to an end, we are faced with the uncertainty the COVID pandemic brings to the coming school year. Children may be returning to school in a matter of weeks, so it’s time to prepare. As you’re getting supplies and new school clothes, it’s also important to prepare your child to go back to school healthy—and to stay healthy!

COVID considerations

More important this year than any other, make sure your child is appropriately educated in how to avoid getting infections and transmitting infections to others. If he or she will be attending school in person, make sure they know the rules for social distancing, mask usage and handwashing, and why those rules are so important. Make sure your child is up to date with vaccinations, not only to protect him or her, but also to protect others at school. If you don’t vaccinate, be aware that your child may be more vulnerable to catching serious infections from other sick kids. Talk to your doctor about when it’s safe to keep your child home for observation when they’re sick and when it’s wise to have your child evaluated urgently. Encourage your children to wash their hands frequently and give older children small bottles of hand sanitizer to use at school. Set a great example and do the same yourself!

It’s very common during these times that people of all ages with almost any symptom of acute infection are quarantined, so be prepared for having a child confined at home for days at a time. Check with your employer about policies about parental absences due to having a sick child or if you are sick yourself. The Family Medical Leave Act may be of assistance if you have to skip work to care for a family member for more than a few days. Talk to your employer to see if you qualify.

Sleep is king

Children need sleep to prepare their bodies to expend the energy they need for their activities in and out of school. Children who are sleep deprived may fall asleep in class, have trouble paying attention, make poor decisions about risky behaviors and be very moody. The recommended hours of sleep each night are:

  • Toddlers and preschoolers: 10-12 hours
  • School-aged kids: 10-11 hours
  • Teens: 8-9 hours

Studies show that many children don’t get adequate sleep, especially during the school year. This issue has played a role in some school systems’ decisions to move school start times to later in the morning to allow kids to be better rested.

Transitioning your child to sleep for success

Over the last several weeks before school starts, gradually move children’s bedtime and wake times to match their school hours. Keeping late hours until the night before school starts will make it much harder for your child to adjust to the new schedule. Restrict your child from TV, computer and phone use for at least one hour, preferably two, before bedtime, as the light spectrum projected by these screens can make the brain more active and interfere with falling asleep. Try to reinforce to children that all cell phone use must stop during rest hours.

Transitioning to a school-year schedule is still important if your child will be attending school remotely or will be home-schooled. Sleep is just as important to learning on computers, especially because there may be fewer ways for teachers to effectively keep your child’s attention and many more distractions around the house. A well-rested child will be able to focus better and be better able to interact with the teacher and remote classmates.

Feeding your child for success

Children also need adequate nutrition and hydration to power their bodies and brains. Whether it’s a sit-down meal or on-the-go, try to make sure your child has a nutritious breakfast that includes protein for extra energy that will keep them going until lunch. If they don’t take a healthy lunch with them, teach children about the building blocks of a nutritious diet and give them guidance about choosing the proper foods for lunch at school. Encourage your children to drink as much water as they can throughout the day.

Sports and the heat

If sports are on your child’s school agenda, check with your pediatrician to make sure your child is healthy enough to participate. Talk to coaches about what precautions they take against the late summer and early fall Florida heat and assure that children will have free access to water and/or electrolyte solutions to drink during practice and games. Let your child know that if they experience any of the following symptoms, they should stop, tell the teacher or coach they’re not feeling well, get to a shaded area or into air conditioning, and drink fluids:

  • Dizzy
  • Headache
  • Thirst
  • Nauseous
  • Muscle cramps

Remember that even children who are home schooled or remotely schooled need to get outside and burn up some energy and have time to play. Hydration and safety are just as important outside of school. Make sure your child uses safety gear such as helmets and pads and that they are adequately supervised, especially around water and streets.

Here’s wishing you and your family a healthy and happy school year!


 

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