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Published on January 14, 2021

children in masks at school desks

My child is going back to school in a pandemic. What should I be doing?

By: Allison Allmon Dixson, PhD, Medical Director of Integrated Care, Pediatric Psychologist and Behavioral Health Consultant, Pediatrics and Jennifer Kleven, MD, MPH, FAAP, chair, Department of Pediatrics

Thousands of parents in Gundersen's primary service area are preparing to send children back to in-person learning.

Parents: Recognize that this time is exciting and potentially anxiety provoking for your child and likely for you. This is a stressful time to be a parent. Practice self-compassion and be gentle with yourself. You can handle difficult situations. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can.

Here are your next steps as a parent:

How can I prepare my child to return to in-person learning?

Make sure that you feel prepared. That will make it easier to listen to your child's thoughts about returning to school.

In the days before in-person schooling resumes, we recommend you:

  • Listen to your child's questions and excitement about returning to face-to-face school.
  • Talk to your child about how the school day will look (e.g., masking, being in their classroom while different teachers come to them for specials, etc.)
  • Prepare in practical ways. You and your child can get their backpack ready and check if they need any school supplies, make sure their winter wear fits, pick out the clothes and masks to wear to school (plan on having an extra mask at school and using a new one each day), begin going to bed a little earlier and waking at the appropriate time to go through a morning routine needed for school.

What should I avoid doing or talking about during preparations?

While you may have your own worries about what the school day will look like, whether your child could get sick, how your child will adjust, etc., you don't need to address these with your child unless your child asks about these things. It is more helpful to provide concrete information that you know will occur (e.g., you will all be wearing masks) and let your child take the conversation from there. However, if you don't know an answer, it's OK to respond with, “That is a great question. I don't know the answer right now and I want to make sure that we get it answered for you so we can ask that on the first day of school.”

How can I determine whether things are going well in the first few weeks after my child returns to the classroom?

Communication with teachers and regular check-ins with your child can be helpful ways to monitor how your child is adjusting.

What red flags should I watch for?

If you become concerned about persistent changes in your child's sleep, eating, or behavior, reach out to your child's teacher or your primary care provider for support. They can help you determine next best steps.

What should I do if my child wants to return to online learning?

If your child is expressing a desire for return to online learning, it may be helpful to talk with your child to understand that request better and what is behind it. For example, if your child is missing time with you after having significant time at home, it may be helpful to schedule 15 minutes of daily one-on-one time.

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