We’ve heard it over and over again in the lead up to Canadian schools reopening: This school year will be unlike anything our children have experienced before.
The anticipation has many parents feeling anxious and even fearful about how their children will fare as they step into such a unique environment. While parents cannot control what happens inside the classroom, they can do their best to send their kids back to school as healthy as possible. We went to the experts to find out how.
Get to sleep
Dr. Lisa Medalie, a behavioural sleep medicine specialist, says quality sleep is essential.
“Sleep matters more than ever right now because of the relationship between sleep and the immune system. When we are sleep deprived, our immune system is not functioning at its optimal way, so we really need to make sleep a priority given that we are in the midst of a pandemic,” Medalie said.
“If we want our bodies set up to effectively fight off any virus then adequate sleep duration is important.”
Medalie says quality sleep is also important because it affects children’s ability to regulate mood and focus. With spring and summer bringing late bedtimes and sleeping in, she recommends parents get their children on a school sleep schedule as soon as possible. That begins with a healthy bedtime routine.
“That hour before bed really needs to be the time that you have a relaxing pre-sleep ritual. So, a hot bath, soft music, light reading before closing eyes is going to optimize the probability that kids will more rapidly fall asleep, thereby increasing that total sleep time making for the most productive next day.”
Get back to basics
Children’s routines this school year will include health checklists, hand sanitizer, masks and social distancing. With all of those considerations, COVID-19 researcher Dr. Jim Kellner is reminding parents not to dismiss the basics in good health.
“I think it’s important to strike a balance between all of those precautions and all of the usual things you do,” Kellner said. “So don’t leave behind the usual things as a parent you would do to help your child to prepare for, be ready for, school at any regular given time. Focus on the physical things like sleep, activity, great diet, as well as the non-physical things like ongoing emotional support, intellectual stimulation and nurturing your child or your children as they grow.”
Kellner says there’s no “magic bullet” in terms of vitamins or supplements to protect a child from being infected with the virus but adds the precautions families typically take to avoid getting ill will put them “in good stead,” with COVID-19.
Pediatrician Dr. Raphael Sharon also recommends that families ensure their children are up to date with vaccinations.
“Every year, pediatricians and the Canadian Paediatric Society recommend the flu shot and this year is no different. We recommend it just like we recommend you should continue with routine immunizations.”
In terms of children’s adaptability and resiliency, family therapist Alyson Schafer says parents need to check their own anxieties and have more faith.
“We are projecting that they are not going to manage this well.”
Schafer adds that children are far more trainable when it comes to new behaviours than parents imagine.
“There’s so many things that we teach kids all the time – like you need to wear sunblock before you go out in the sun. They don’t know all the science behind skin cancer… but if we are just sort of matter of fact, ‘Ya, we put on sunblock. Oh, we’re going to wear masks.’ We are feeding this really big story behind it that comes from adult thinking. And it just is. ‘Santa comes down the chimney and you get gifts once a year.’ I think kids are very trainable and our attitudes are very infectious and I think they’re going to be a lot better off than the general population is fearing.”