Welcome to the April edition of Ask Dr. Emily
Ask Dr. Emily is a monthly series on The Autism Blog where Dr. Emily Neuhaus, a clinical psychologist at Seattle Children’s Autism Center, answers a reader’s question.
We often receive questions that we want to share with all our readers. We welcome you to send us your questions and Dr. Neuhaus will do her best to answer them each month. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This month, Dr. Emily answers a reader’s question about how to prepare kids to go back to school with tips and resources from Andrea Lupas, Ph.D.; and Lia Thibodaux, Ph.D.
My kids are going back to school in person soon after a long time of learning at home! What do we need to know to prepare them?
In a year full of changes, this is definitely another big transition for kids and their families! It’s great that you’re thinking ahead so you can ease that transition back to in-person education, especially since this shift can mean new health guidelines and procedures at school, a new schedule and sequence for the day, and lots of big feelings.
Fortunately, today we’re featuring guidance from two skilled psychologists – Dr. Andrea Lupas, Ph.D. (Postdoctoral Fellow, Seattle Children’s Autism Center); and Dr. Lia Thibodaux, Ph.D. (Postdoctoral Fellow, Neuropsychology Consultation Service). They’ve put together a wealth of strategies and resources to get kids and families back to school in the smoothest way possible.
How to Support Children Going Back to School during COVID-19
Andrea Lupas, PhD & Lia Thibodaux, PhD
More schools are beginning to move toward in-person learning. Some children may do well with the transition and others may need extra support. Below are suggestions for supporting your children as they go back to school. Click here to download a handout with these strategies plus sample guides to use at home.
Health and Safety
Monitor your child’s health. If they are sick or have a fever over 100.4, do not send them to school. Temperature and symptom checks can be completed each day as a family to make these behaviors seem normal for children.
- More information about symptoms and checking temperatures: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html
Before going back to school, teach children how to:
- Distance from Others
- Teach your child by using physical cues to show them what distance means.
- Show them how to measure distance by stretching out their arms.
- Hula hoops, jump ropes, or tape on the floor may also be helpful.
- Teach kids how to wave and say “hi” instead of hugging.
- The Center for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends keeping 3 feet apart in schools, instead of 6 feet. Washington schools are currently allowed to decide if they will distance 3 or 6 feet. It is important to ask your child’s school what they will do for distancing so that you can prepare your child.
- Distancing resources:
- Videos: https://www.weareteachers.com/social-distancing-videos/
- Distancing resources:
- Teaching distancing ideas: https://www.smcoe.org/assets/files/Alert_FIL/Teaching%20Children%20about%20Social%20Distancing.pdf
- Wear a Mask
- Children over 2 years should wear a mask around people who do not live in their home.
- Masks should fit snuggly without restricting breathing and cover mouth and nose.
- How to wear masks: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-wear-cloth-face-coverings.html
- It can be helpful to wear a mask for short times at first. Over time, children get more comfortable in masks for longer periods.
- Masking Resources:
- Wash Hands
- Handwashing should last 20 seconds.
- All parts of hands (under fingernails, thumbs, and the back sides of hands) need washing.
- Use songs to help children spend the full 20 seconds washing their hands.
- Example songs are the “happy birthday” song twice or the alphabet song.
- Handwashing Resources:
- Visual to put up in bathroom (English & Spanish): https://www.smcps.org/forms/health-physicals/524-printable-hand-washing-visual-procedures-english-and-spanish/file
- Additional visuals: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/posters.html
- Videos to watch while practicing handwashing: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/videos.html
- Handwashing Resources:
- Practice distancing, masking, and handwashing at home before going to school.
- You can turn these into games to make them more fun!
- Building routines, rewards, and breaks into practice can help your child be successful.
- Visual timers or counting aloud/on your fingers are helpful tools to show children how long they should wash hands or wear a mask.
Emotion and Behavior Support
Going back to school can cause kids to feel happy, worried, or other emotions. It is important to:
Listen to Feelings
- Listen to your children’s feelings. If your child says they’re worried, tell them it’s normal to worry but don’t add to their anxiety.
- Use statements such as “I know you’re nervous about going back to school, and your teachers are going to make sure that the classroom is safe.”
- How to Help with Anxiety: https://www.npr.org/2019/10/23/772789491/how-to-help-a-child-struggling-with-anxiety
- Back to School Anxiety During COVID-19: https://childmind.org/article/back-to-school-anxiety-during-covid/
- Validation Guide: https://www.psychalive.org/why-important-parents-validate-children/
- Validation Guide: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/liking-the-child-you-love/201309/five-easy-powerful-ways-validate-your-childs-feelings?eml
- Rebuilding school routines is helpful for going back to school. Work with your child’s teachers to make sure there is a routine at school, too.
- Picture versions of routines or spoken instructions help children understand routines.
- An example of a picture routine (visual schedule) is provided in the link at the end of this blog. Picture routines should be specific to children and their routines.
- Practice these routines before the first day of school.
- Tell children about any changes, do not surprise them! It can be helpful to discuss changes with teachers or other school staff.
- Reward children for specific, good behaviors. Rewards can be praise, extra play time, or fun items.
- If children aren’t motivated to distance, mask, handwash, or go to school, caregivers and teachers can help build motivation with rewards.
- Rewards can be temporary solutions until your child is used to new routines and rules.
- For example, if your child does not like washing their hands, tell them they can have 5 minutes of game time for practicing handwashing.
- Visuals about distancing, where/how to wear masks, how to wash hands, routines, and rewards are helpful for understanding.
- Example of a visual reminder to wash hands, wear a mask, cover coughs and sneezes, and distance: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/stop-the-spread_poster.pdf
- See “Sample Morning Routine Visual” below!
- See “Sample Guide to Practice Wearing A Mask” below!
- Wear Masks
- Wash Hands
- Listen to Feelings
- Give Rewards
- Build Routines
- Provide Visuals
These are suggestions that work well for most children. If your child is significantly distressed, consider working with a therapist of counselor.