(WYTV) – It has become almost a daily occurrence now — a school district lays out its plan to return to school under the cloud of the pandemic. As a parent, how do you leverage your child’s development and health?
“Right now, it’s very difficult to make decisions about that,” said Jamie Miller, clinical services director at Alta Behavioral Health.
A parent’s basic instinct is to protect their child. Amid the pandemic, it’s also to give their lives a sense of routine and normalcy.
A growing number of districts are leaving it up to parents to decide what the school year will look like for their child, whether that be in-person, hybrid or fully remote.
“You really need to think of what the needs of your children would be. It’s a tough choice and there probably isn’t going to be a perfect answer,” Miller said.
While the return to school might be exciting for many students, others will be feeling anxious or frightened.
“If our children go back to school or if they stay home and maybe get an online education, we’re going to be watching them, watching to see if their typical behavior is no longer typical for them. Are they fidgety? Restless? Irritable? Is their behavior much different than what it was before?” Miller said.
Miller is one of many mental health experts guiding parents as they decide which schooling is right for their child. This, as the threat of the virus and community spread in schools linger.
“The first thing you need to think about is what does your child need to be healthy and you have to look at two things really: the physical health and their emotional health,” Miller said.
“We know from a mental health standpoint, a socialization standpoint for kids, it’s best to be back in school if possible,” said Dr. Jim Kravec, Mahoning County’s medical director.
Experts agree that school has a tremendous influence on a child’s health and well-being.
“We know that this has to happen and at least from what we can tell with masks, with social distancing, frequent handwashing. So I think if there’s a way to get the kids back in school but still have them safe, it’s not one or the other, it’s both,” Dr. Kravec said.
While also preparing them for what they’ll see if they step foot into a classroom this year. Miller says it starts at home.
“We need to remind our kids that they have the ability to take care of themselves, and one of the things they can do to take care of themselves would be to practice social distancing, to be mindful of those healthy hygiene practices and to wear their masks wherever they are,” Miller said.
Experts realize that mask-wearing can be daunting, especially for younger students, though there are some exceptions for students with behavioral issues or disabilities.
“If we can have students in masks and if they stay masked, then if there is a positive case it’s much less likely to have a spread,” Dr. Kravec said.
“Children are often very self-conscious about how they look to begin with,” Miller said.
Miller offered this advice to help kids cope.
“You can even go as far as letting your children choose their own mask. A lot of masks today have a lot of character behind them and so it’ll be nice if your children can be part of that too,” Miller said.
At the end of the day, these local experts agree that it’s really all about being a role model for your kids. Essentially weighing the risk versus the benefit, keeping kids home if they’re sick and allowing them to stay connected.
“I do believe that as we continue going through with school, there will be exposures. But if we can minimize the number of hospitalizations, that’s the most important outcome for us,” Dr. Kravec said.
“If you choose to not send your children to school, make sure you do online playdates or to Facetime, like we’re doing now, with their friends. Schedule those things so they still have the opportunity to stay connected,” Miller said.