Audra Hermanson

Audra Hermanson is a primary care certified pediatric nurse practitioner at Bellin Health Marinette.

You’ve become accustomed to the usual back-to-school messaging from your healthcare provider or pediatrician’s office.

Schedule your child’s physical. Make sure their immunizations are up-to-date. Help kids adjust sleeping and eating schedules gradually so they can get used to the rhythms of a new school year.

And while all of that advice remains important as the 2020-21 school year begins, we also know that it’s anything but learning as usual as students head back (or don’t head back) to class this fall.

Education in the age of COVID-19 is a challenge. Whether your child is learning virtually, headed back to in-person school or some combination of the two, there are considerations and accommodations you simply haven’t had to make before. Remember your healthcare provider is in your corner, and you will get through this. The following tips may help:

Make Masking Mandatory

Yes, there’s a statewide masking mandate, but we know not everyone follows the rules. Masking works better the more widely it’s done, so model good behavior and help your children do what they can to stop the spread.

Haven’t started in-person classes? You’ve got time to help your child adjust to masking gradually at home — try an hour here or a couple hours there so they don’t get overwhelmed. School’s already started and masking’s a struggle? Make sure you communicate why masking is important in an age-appropriate way. Younger kids may enjoy masking their dolls or stuffed animals to normalize the process, while older children will have a better grasp of the logic of why we should mask. As always, you are your child’s first teacher, and what you do matters — so serve as a role model and make sure you mask up. The American Academy of Pediatrics has more great tips. Go to aap.org and click “Information for Parents” to get started.

Go the Distance

Telling your kids to steer clear of classmates they haven’t seen in months is a tall order, but helping children keep their distance is another great way to stop the spread of COVID-19. Engage your child’s school and teacher around what they’re doing to keep kids 6 feet apart, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you have concerns. Help your kids think of new and creative ways to play with their friends from afar, emphasizing that the don’t-get-too-close rule won’t last forever.

Hand it to Hygiene

As with other COVID-safe behaviors, the path to good hand hygiene starts in the home. More than ever, kids should be washing their hands before and after eating, after using the toilet, and whenever they come in from outside — especially if they’ve been at a playground or other area with frequently touched surfaces. When you’re out and about and can’t wash, carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to kill germs on the go. Remind children to keep their hands away from their face, and to clean their hands if they touch their mask. Model the behavior and make clean the rule at home and away.

Manage the Mental Aspect

Whether your child is learning at home or in a very different classroom environment, the changes brought by COVID-19 can be difficult to navigate mentally and emotionally. Watch your child closely for signs they’re struggling to cope, including increased moodiness, sleeping too much or too little, persistent sadness or even just a non-specific sense that something is off. Talk to your child and, if necessary, engage his or her physician to talk about mental health options. The same goes for parents — if you’re struggling, contacting your primary care provider’s office can be a great first step toward coping and feeling better.

This will be a school year like no other, but you and your child don’t have to navigate it alone. Be safe, be healthy and know that there are brighter days ahead.

Audra Hermanson is a primary care certified pediatric nurse practitioner at Bellin Health Marinette.