In these days of uncertainties, parents of school-aged children can be sure of one thing: There is no cookie cutter approach to how their child’s school will operate during the 2020-21 academic year. Some schools are offering an entirely remote experience, at least for now. Some have scheduled a combination of remote and in-person learning. Whether the child is in a physical school setting or learning from home, Dr. Jennifer Tidroski, DO, YRMC PhysicianCare Ponderosa Pediatrics, provides her patients and their parents simple, useful and fun recommendations to keep them learning in the healthiest possible way.

“I’ve been telling parents to talk through what some of the likely changes will be with their children,” says Tidroski. “For example, ‘Your classroom might look different – Your desks might be farther apart, and you will have to wear a mask all day.’”

“Or, ‘You’re going to have to stay farther apart from your friends. You might have to eat lunch at your desk. You might not be able to use the playground.’” She points out that this will be more than one conversation and will help the child picture how things may be different when they return to school.

Tidroski focuses on six important ways you can help your child stay safe and healthy:

1. Teach and practice proper handwashing.

“Especially now, handwashing is the name of the game,” Tidroski says. “This is the number one way to prevent any disease forever and always.”

Tidroski recommends researching fun online activities and other resources such as cartoons and child-appropriate YouTube videos on hand washing.

“I’ve seen cute exercises where you cover your child’s hands with finger paint so that they can show you how they wash it away. Then you look for the spots that still have paint. It gives a good visual of the spots that need more attention.”

This exercise can also help on other levels. While your child’s hands are covered in paint, point out that if they touch their face, the ‘germs’ can be transferred to their face as well.

Singing the ABC song or the Happy Birthday song twice can help a child slow down so that they wash for the recommended 20 seconds. Make sure they are washing the backs of their hands, between their fingers and their thumbs too.

“Draw a big X on your child’s hand with washable marker. They have to wash until the X is gone. This helps kids practice how long it really takes to get their hands clean,” says Tidroski.

2. Teach your child how to cough and sneeze properly.

The best practice for smaller children is to sneeze or cough into the elbow, not the hand. ‘Dabbing’ is a fun way to show younger children how to sneeze properly. You can ‘dab’ your sneeze right into the crack of your elbow, then wash your hands.

Older children can be taught to use a tissue to cover their face, then throw it away and wash their hands.

3. Practice not touching your face or mask.

Tidroski warns that touching your face is the best way to put germs from the environment into your body. Many of us have no idea how frequently we are doing it. She suggests playing games with your child such as ‘spot mom touching her face’.

In addition, “If kids are going to wear masks all day, it’s going to take practice to keep from fiddling with it, and inadvertently spreading germs to their face,” she says. “Practicing ahead of time will be very helpful.”

Practice could include wearing masks at home together in short increments, such as 20 minutes at a time, then discussing how it felt. Talk about why the people you see at the grocery store are wearing masks and why there is tape on the ground. Measure how far 6 feet is, and practice standing at that distance, so your child becomes familiar with it.

4. Encourage your child not to share.

This is difficult because we typically encourage kids to share. However, sharing things like eating utensils, cups and water bottles should be discouraged.

Tidroski recommends a website called Asphalt Green. It has an extensive list of games and activities that require kids to be far apart, allowing for socially distanced interaction. You’ll even find popular old school games such as ‘Simon Says’ on the list.

“My daughter and I like to play mirror games with each other,” says Tidroski. “We’ll stand six feet apart and one of us has to copy whatever the other one is doing. This is a great game where you can be close enough to interact but also stay about six feet apart.”

In addition, you can help your child think of creative ways to show their friends they love them without a hug. For example, a Wi-Five is like an ‘air’ high five, without the physical contact.

5. Encourage good nutrition and adequate sleep.

Eating well and getting enough sleep contribute to overall good health, helping to keep our immune system strong. In addition, if we are adequately nourished and rested, we are better able to pay attention to things like avoiding touching our faces and other safety measures.

Most 6 to 12 year olds require 9 to 12 hours of sleep per night. This can include naps. “An adequate amount of sleep allows your brain to convert short term memory into long term memory,” says Tidroski. For a school-aged child, this means that with a good night’s sleep, new information and skills learned in school will have the best chance of being retained and recalled the next day.

In order to adjust from a loose summer schedule to the earlier mornings required during school, Tidroski recommends getting to bed 10 to 15 minutes earlier per week to gradually shift bedtime back to an appropriate time.

When discussing nutrition with children, Tidroski uses a car analogy. “We talk about why a car needs gas. A full tank of gas gives the car more power and allows it to go farther.”

“I explain that just like good quality fuel for a car, good quality food helps your body work better and stay stronger,” she continues. “If you let your tank run empty, the car doesn’t work right. It stops running or it makes bad noises and you can’t get where you want to go. The same is true for our bodies. That’s why we have to re-fuel throughout the day with a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Tidroski emphasizes that healthy nutrition is important for parents too. “They need to have a healthy diet because what they do will always count more than what they say. Modeling healthy eating and keeping healthy food in the house is important.”

For information on healthy eating, Tidroski suggests visiting myplate.gov. She recommends that parents use the divided plate visual as a template for creating their own balanced meals. You’ll also find nutrition-based games and activities for children.

6. Make sure your children are up to date on their vaccines.

“Get your flu shot when it comes out,” encourages Tidroski. “It’s going to be important to do what we can to prevent the preventable illnesses, especially in the face of so many unknowns.”

For advice on a broader range of parenting topics, Tidroski regularly recommends that parents visit the Healthy Children website. The site is written and maintained by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which ensures that all of the information is reviewed and supported by pediatricians. And, of course, she says that your pediatrician is an excellent source of information and support.

YRMC PhysicianCare Ponderosa Pediatrics is currently accepting new patients. The office is located at 2120 Centerpointe West Drive in Prescott. Visit our website for more information, or call (928)778-4581.