As children transition back to in-person learning, encourage parents to monitor their children’s well-being and behaviors to determine if they need more support.
Your patient, a seven-year-old with an ADHD diagnosis, bounces around the exam room. His mother looks tired. “We’ve been at home so long,” she sighs. “It’s been hard on him. He needs to see his friends. He needs his routine. He can’t concentrate on Zoom. How do I know if it’s ok for him to go back to in-person school with the virus like it is?”
Many parents and caregivers are grappling with when and how to send their children back to school for in-person instruction. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. To help parents navigate this choice for their child, consider this back-to-school quiz:
1. Does someone in your household, including your child, have a health condition that puts them at risk for severe COVID-19 disease?
If yes, holding off on in-person school until vulnerable members of the household are vaccinated may make sense.
2. What’s your child’s school doing to prevent transmission?
There’s substantial evidence that spread of COVID-19 is minimal when schools use strategies like masking, distancing, and handwashing. If the school is doing these things, the benefits of in-person school may outweigh the risk. Most students do very well following a new set of rules in school, like keeping a mask on, handwashing, and avoiding crowding with other students. These rules become the new normal.
3. How well is your child learning at home?
Are they engaged? How are they doing emotionally? How is their behavior? How are they feeling about being away from classmates? Does your child have special learning needs or other school-based supports? If so, how well are those being supported during virtual learning?
Social isolation, coupled with the need to maintain attention for long periods in front of a screen, have led to a lot of frustration, and, for some, anxiety, behavior problems, and lack of engagement with school. Getting back into the classrooms to see old friends and embrace routine can be really important to children’s sense of physical and psychological safety. At the same time, some children are experiencing anxiety about returning to school buildings and will need support in their transition back to the classroom. For a small group of students, they are thriving in distance learning—which group is your child in?
4. Can you be flexible if your child needs to stay home from school because of potential illness or a class quarantine? Will you be able to make arrangements with short notice if needed?
In many schools, quarantines are to be expected. You’ll need contingency plans to accommodate school status changes.
This school year has been like no other. Helping parents walk through the pros and cons of in-person school for their child can help reduce everyone’s fears and anxieties.
Finally, here’s a great resource to share with parents and caregivers:
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.