Back to School in the Time of COVID-19
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Back to School in the Time of COVID-19

Parents across Canada and the globe are understandably anxious about what a return to school in September will mean for their children, their extended families, and their communities. Here’s some helpful information to help you make the best decision for you and your family.

Navigating daily life in the midst of a pandemic is uncharted territory for us all, and can be overwhelming. Some guidance from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario may help put things in perspective as you face the next few weeks and beyond.

Many Canadian school boards are offering parents these options:

•       Return students back to the classroom (ranging from part-time to full-time)

•       Keep your child at home and continue virtual schooling

•       A combination of physical return and virtual schooling

Are you uncertain about which choice to make? It helps to weigh the risks and benefits of each option.

Reasons to attend school

•       Your child learns best when physically at school.

•       Your child benefits from seeing peers and other taking part in other school activities.

•       School allows parents to work and provides access to meal programs and other services.

Reasons to avoid physical return to school

•       Your child (or someone living at home) has a condition that increases the risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

•       The level of community spread is high in your area.

Reasons to consider virtual schooling from home

•       Your child has someone who can supervise them at home.

•       Your child has access to reliable technology (such as internet) for virtual learning.

•       Your child’s virtual learning option gives opportunities for real-time interactions with the teachers

•       Your child’s maturity and learning style are sufficient for virtual learning.

Each child is unique

Does your child have special needs such as ADHD, autism, mood disorders, anxiety or other issues? Perhaps your child faces bullying or other school stressors. It is recommended that parents work with schools and healthcare providers to ensure that adequate supports will be in place in the classroom to help with special needs.

Social connections

Continue to encourage your child to stay in touch with friends and peers. This will help them feel more connected by the time they get back to school. Ideally, this involves face-to-face time outside, as per COVID-19 physical distancing. If they can’t meet face-to-face, a video call is the next best thing.

Normalize mask-wearing

Some children will be able to wear masks easily but others may have a harder time. Consider using the following strategies.

•       Are you buying a mask? Try giving your child some of the newer child-friendly designs to choose from or get them to help decorate a pre-made mask.

•       Are you making a mask? Let your child to choose material.

•       Create an exposure hierarchy to alleviate your child’s fears. From least scary to most scary, it might be: seeing others wear a mask, seeing a mask, touching a mask, wearing a mask for short periods, and wearing a mask for longer periods of time.

•       Use pleasant distractions like music, videos, or video games to help pass the time while wearing a mask.

•       Practice calming strategies like deep breathing, playing outside, or going for a walk.

•       Consider motivating kids to get used to wearing a mask by pairing it with something they enjoy, like allowing special video game time while wearing their mask.

If your child still struggles with wearing masks, consider seeing your health-care provider to explore other options, including a possible valid medical exemption.


•       Post a family calendar with the school start date marked down, to help your child count down the days.

•       Gradually get back into school year structure and routines. Remind your child that the summer is coming to an end and school will be restarting.

•       Talk about routines. You might say: “With COVID-19, you’ve had a lot more screen time than usual. Now that school is starting up again, we’re going to get back into our old routine.”

•       Set a bedtime (and wake-up time) and move it closer to what it should be for the school year.

•       Create a new daily schedule for school days, including your family’s COVID-19 safety protocols, such as proper hand-washing when returning home.

Help your child continue to cope

•       Stay connected to your kids. Kids do best when they feel loved, which happens when you spend quality time with them and listen, validate, and empathize with their feelings.

•       Model healthy coping. Kids do best when they learn healthy ways to cope with adversity, such as following public health recommendations about masks and physical distancing.

•       Try to look on the bright side. You might say: “On one hand, this pandemic has not been easy. On the other hand, we’ve had a lot more fun times together.”

Ease your child’s worries

•       Ask, “What worries you the most?”  Then discuss some problem-solving techniques and try to reassure them.

•       Give your child a sense of control. Try to listen without interrupting.

•       Validate and accept your child’s feelings about the situation.

•       Try giving your child a comforting object to carry with them as they head to school, such as a photograph or a beloved toy.

The first week back to school

•       Leave earlier than usual. Whether you are driving or dropping off your kids at the bus stop, this will give you more time together.

•       Consider working a shorter day on the first day back, so that you can pick them up or be at home to welcome them.

•       Establish a goodbye ritual. When it’s time to say goodbye to your child, give them a final hug, kiss, say goodbye, and talk about when you’ll see them next.

•       Try to take some time just for yourself. Breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the peace and quiet.

•       Ask your child about how the day went. If he or she isn’t ready to talk, then ask later when they are ready. You might ask: “How did it go with wearing your mask and keeping away from people?” “What was hard, what was easy?”

•       If your child is sad, validate the sadness. Tell them, “I can see you are feeling sad and it’s OK to cry. I’m going to miss you, too.” Offer lots of comfort.

 Sources: Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario; Centers for Disease Control

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