How to go back to school

What you – and your kids – need to know about staying safe during a phased reopening of SA schools.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting national lockdown, is a tricky time to navigate, and not just for adults. But if you help your children stick to healthy hygiene habits and teach them how safety measures keep them safe from germs, you can empower them to take charge of a healthier future.

“Initially, national lockdown brought many families closer together, all under one roof, and many children no doubt enjoyed having their parents around,” says Dr Karin van Niekerk, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Milnerton. “But it has also caused a great deal of uncertainty, and this can lead to significant stress.”

School offers so much more than just academics, she explains, and kids can find it impossible to recreate a structured routine without a regular and balanced school day. “Older children are so used to working towards goals and reliable timelines; yet at this time, nobody can offer a guarantee that they will even return to finish out the school year, let alone enjoy highlights such as the Matric dance, school camp or concert.”

Her advice: be open with your children. “Talking to our kids about the responsibility as young people to protect our community gives them a share in the matter and an understanding in a controlled way. Tell them we are not powerless in this. Stay in the facts, in the now, and relate it to your child, rather than talking about the global effects.”

Don’t hide the reality from your children, agrees Aliné Hall, Clinical Quality Specialist: Mother & Child at Mediclinic Southern Africa. “COVID-19 is a sneaky disease in that it spreads by taking advantage of things we do naturally, all the time,” she says. “Children touch their faces, high five each other, share their lunches and naturally play together. Smaller children often cough or sneeze without covering their mouths and noses. They do this without thinking and now is the time to remind them why we need to act differently, and help them understand the new normal.”

A new normal requires a new vocabulary: talk to your children about the virus.

Going back to school will make it difficult to stick to these measures, especially if they are new. “The best thing you can do is instill in your child a habit of open communication. Empower and encourage them to tell you how their school is adapting to the new cleaning and physical distancing regulations, or if their friends are wearing or not wearing masks. This will help you to help them understand their risk.”

It will also help you to pick up on any early warning signs. “Help them articulate how they feel. Are they afraid of getting sick? Or are they not feeling well?  You want them to feel safe and confident enough to open up the moment something does not feel right.”