For the past two-plus years, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted children’s education and frustrated parents. With the back-to-school season in full swing, Suzanne Silverstein — MA, ART, founding director of Cedars-Sinai Share & Care — and Rose Bisellach — RN, nurse manager in the Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center Emergency Room — give their best advice for a successful school year.
Q: Who should get the COVID-19 vaccine before going back to school?
Bisellach: We recommend that all children who are eligible get the COVID-19 vaccine, especially if your child is at high risk. We say high risk is any child who has asthma or diabetes. It is a personal choice. It’s not mandated right now for schools, but it’s a strong recommendation. We’ve seen that kids who’ve had the COVID-19 vaccine have had little side effects and done well in terms of COVID-19 prevention.
Q: Should children be wearing masks at school?
Bisellach: We’re at a phase where each child could wear a mask if they feel comfortable. Certainly, if they’re in a crowded area, they can put it on, but if they’re outside playing around, they can take it off. The recommendation is that parents send their kids to school with masks for use as needed. The exception is that children with underlying health conditions should heed doctors’ advice and stay masked if possible.
Q: What are some general cleanliness rules your kids should follow?
Bisellach: As a mom, I remind my kids to wash their hands. I pack them tissues, hand sanitizer and a mask in their backpack. I remind them of good hand hygiene, especially before and after eating.
Q: What else can parents do to ensure their kids have a successful school year?
Bisellach: We have a rule in our house. Our kids go to sleep at 8 p.m. and, you know, they laugh at me and say, “Mom, I’m not tired.” But, you know, it’s very important that kids turn off the screen at a certain time and have a really good rest.
Mental Health and Social Skills
Q: What are some tips to get kids back on a school schedule?
Silverstein: The first tip is to always get a head start the night before. Have your child lay out their school clothes the night before. Also, if you are preparing school lunch or a snack, perhaps prepare it with your child after dinner. This can help avoid meltdowns during the morning school rush. It’s important to set a schedule with your child and post it somewhere, like on the refrigerator, so that everyone in the family can see it. Then your child knows, OK, now we eat dinner and then I get to play for an hour, etc. Putting the schedule together is something parents can do with their child as a project.
Q: What controls can parents exert over their child’s use of social media?
Silverstein: It’s important to have conversations about social media with your child. What is acceptable? What is not acceptable? Kids need to learn that on social pages, pictures last forever and ever. They don’t really go away, and kids have gotten into a lot of trouble for that.
Parents need to talk to their children about bullying over social media. Older kids need to know if things are stated in social media that are hurtful or cruel to them or to any other child that they know, they can bring that to you. This is important so that you can become an advocate for your child and help them.
Q: What should parents say to their children about school violence?
Silverstein: We know kids share with other kids way before they’re going to share with any adult, any teacher or parent. If a child is sharing anything about any form of violence, even if it’s harm to oneself, that information needs to be shared with the parent. And once it’s shared with the parent, the parent can then help and decide what is the best way to communicate this information to the school.
What I always recommend is [to] leave an anonymous note for the principal, the assistant principal or a teacher. If your child is worried that they shared something harmful in confidence, you say, “As a parent, I give you permission to deny that you’ve said anything, because lives are at stake and that’s the most important thing.”
Q: As a parent, how do you find out from your children what’s going on in school?
Silverstein: Don’t ask a yes or no question. Instead, ask them open-ended questions like, “What was the most exciting thing that happened at school today?” and, “What was the least exciting?” “What did you enjoy the most?” “Who did you have lunch with today or play with in the yard?” The goal is to ask questions where they can explain more and tell you more.
Dinnertime is a great time to have conversations that the whole family can take part in. “What’s the best thing that happened today, and what’s the worst?” And then if everybody gets involved, that will draw your child out. For older kids, the best time to have a conversation session is when you are driving and you cannot look at one another.
Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: COVID-19 Immunity Across Los Angeles.