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Children returning to school after COVID: Guide for parents

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Since the onset of COVID19, all of us have witnessed a disturbed and poorly functioning society. The global pandemic has disrupted the functioning of all key institutions including government bodies, private offices and schools. According to UNICEF, the pandemic-induced lockdown affected the schooling lives of nearly 247 million children in India alone. With a significant drop in cases, children are now returning to school after COVID. 

The government of India has recently given the guidelines for school reopening. The shift of being back into a classroom is nostalgia to some while a very fresh feeling to others, especially toddlers who have recently enrolled. It is about time that children bid goodbye to digital platforms and online lectures and take their seats in a traditional classroom. However, even as the transition is happening, we cannot ignore the effects of COVID – both in terms of physical and mental health.

In this article, Dr Poonam Sidana, a leading pediatrician in Delhi, talks about certain safety measures and discusses what parents must know about children returning to school after COVID.

The effects of COVID on children 

The pandemic and lockdown have also had their share of psychological effects on children. A large number of children in elementary and secondary schools have undergone anxiety as a result of being trapped in the house and consistent negative news flowing around them. Some, unfortunately, have faced a bigger burnt with the loss of loved ones or financial issues. Moreover, a lack of outdoor activities and interaction with friends have led to a disturbing daytime routine and sleep cycle. Simultaneously, there has been a significant rise in the screen time of children. Whether it is due to their online classes or as a result of boredom.

Collectively, these issues have taken a toll on the physical and emotional health of children. Common health issues that were seen in children are:

  • Unhealthy dietary habits (usually stress eating or due to boredom)
  • Weight gain 
  • Precocious puberty (early onset of puberty) 
  • Diabetes
  • Vision problems 
  • Posture problems 
  • Headaches 

COVID19 has also touched upon the educational aspects of a child’s life. Though online classes have been available, they are not as effective as offline lectures. There has been a significant lag in academics which has left parents concerns about their child education during covid-19. 

Thankfully, with school reopening, children are likely to have a fixed schedule with increased activities and interaction. It is expected that the above-given health issues will be sorted as and when children experience a healthy lifestyle. 

Pre-requisites for parents before schools reopening 

From 1st April 2022, children will enter their new year batches. After nearly 2 years of online schooling, we will finally see off our children in their school buses from where they head to one of the most important institutions of their life – schools. 

Before your child heads off to school, here are some pre-requisites you should identify and take care of in order to maximize the safety of your children. You should find out the safety measures the schools are taking.

Parents should confirm how the school is planning to ensure:

  • Use of face masks
  • COVID19 screening and testing with Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) for students as well as employees
  • Regular sanitizing and cleaning of high-touch surfaces 
  • Physical distancing on the school premises  
  • The teachers and support staff are fully vaccinated 

You should also figure out whether extracurricular activities like sports will be offered by the school. In advance, you should also know what measures the schools are taking to manage or curb the spread of COVID19 cases within the premises if any. 

Besides the above measures pertaining to the physical safety of your child, you should also speak to the concerned authorities and teaching staff at school regarding the mental health and emotional concerns of the child. 

Here are some questions to ask about school reopening:

  • How they are planning to help children cope with anxiety and other social issues 
  • How they will support the child in returning to the school 
  • How are they wishing to support children to catch up on learning 

What parents can do 

Going to school is an important milestone in the life of any child. It is natural to feel sceptical about schooling during COVID19. However, as parents and guardians, you can take several measures to help promote the health of your child:

  • Ensure that your child is vaccinated (COVID19 vaccinations are available for children over the age of 15 years)
  • Give immunity-boosting foods to children 
  • Provide a high-quality N95 face mask to your child 
  • Consult a healthcare provider to address the underlying health issues of children 
  • Teach them about a healthy lifestyle with an emphasis on exercising 

Myths and misconceptions about school reopening 

The biggest and only myth regarding school reopening after COVID19 is that it is necessary for children to go to school. The popular opinion is that it is absolutely compulsory for parents to send their children off to school. However, the truth is that if parents are not yet comfortable or are doubtful about the on-premise school boarding, then it is not mandatory for them to send their children to school. 

You can choose to continue with online classes and wait until you are comfortable with regular in-person classes. 

The concluding note 

While it comes as good news that children are returning to school after COVID19, it also carries a bit of anxiety for parents. The above guide helps you have a preview of what to do and what to avoid in terms of preparedness. 

If you wish to learn more about aspects to take care of while school reopening, you can consult Dr Poonam Sidana, a leading paediatrician in Delhi.