As kids head back to school each year, they are at an increased risk of catching a virus. This year, there's the added fear that children may get COVID-19 while in the classroom if they return to school in-person.
While there's no way to fully prevent the spread of viruses at school, daycare or in playgroups, Jeffrey Kahn, M.D., Director of Infectious Disease at Children's Health℠ and a professor at UT Southwestern, shares his advice on how to prevent COVID-19 and other viruses.
1. Encourage handwashing
Handwashing is an important way to prevent the spread of coronavirus and other infectious diseases. If a virus is living on a child's hands and they touch their face, they may become infected.
Dr. Kahn recommends encouraging your children to wash their hands frequently both at home and at school. Your child should wash their hands:
- After blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing
- After handling their face mask
- After leaving a public place
- After touching animals or pets
- After using the restroom
- Before and after eating food
- Before touching their face
If soap and water aren't available, your child can use a hand sanitizer that contains 60% alcohol instead.
"You can provide your child with hand sanitizer for school or wipes to clean their desk area," says Dr. Kahn. "These are things that could really help prevent the spread of viruses to your child."
2. Wear a mask and keep your distance
Your child should continue to practice social distancing, even if they return to school or activities. Children and all family members should also wear a face mask when they are in public based on advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"Some children may not be used to wearing a mask right now," says Dr. Kahn. "You should find a mask that fits them well and doesn't bother them so they can keep it on in public or during the school day."
You should send your child to school wearing a mask and include a back-up mask. Make sure you have a process for regularly cleaning masks at home, whether that is throwing them into the laundry after use or handwashing them in soap and water.
As part of social distancing, you should also remind your children that they shouldn't share items like masks, pencils, toys, food or drinks.
3. Get enough rest
Sleep helps keep the body healthy, giving it time to fight off infections and repair any damage. It's important to remember that children need more sleep than adults to stay healthy. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Children ages 3 to 5 need 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day (including naps).
- Children ages 6 to 12 need 9 to 12 hours of sleep.
- Teenagers need 8 to 10 hours of sleep.
Help your child get the sleep they need by enforcing an age-appropriate bedtime. You should also provide them with an environment designed for sleep. It should be cool, dark, quiet and free of screens. For younger children, a bedtime routine can help them settle into sleep more easily.
4. Eat a healthy diet
In addition to sleep, children need a healthy, well-balanced diet full of vitamins and nutrients. A healthy diet can help their bodies function well and prevent disease. Your child's diet should include:
- Lean proteins like fish and chicken
- Plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low-fat dairy products
Avoid added sugar and sugary beverages.
5. Stay up-to-date on routine exams and vaccines
Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many families have delayed routine medical care and vaccinations – and this can have long-term health effects. While social distancing is an important part of preventing the spread of COVID-19, delaying essential trips like medical appointments can come with its own set of risks.
Keep your child up-to-date on vaccines and keep routine checkup appointments. If you aren't sure if your child is up-to-date or not, call your pediatrician's office to find out. When you do go to the doctor, follow precautions in order to get care safely.
6. Address stress and mental health with your child
Children may feel stressed during this time. They may be anxious about returning to school, sad about missing their friends or disappointed about the loss of sports or other activities.
Check in with your child frequently to see how they are feeling. Watch out for warning signs of anxiety, such as changes in sleep, eating or behavior.
If you have any questions about how to keep your child healthy at home or school, talk to your pediatrician.
For more information to help your family navigate returning to school during the pandemic, visit our COVID-19 back-to-school guidance page.
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Children's Health is committed to remaining a trusted source of health information and care for you and your family during this time. See more resources to keep your family healthy at the Children's Health COVID-19 hub.
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