Helping your kids cope with the pandemic

Going back to normal school life can be an exciting or anxious time for children after the summer holidays. Here are some tips for parents to help your children ease into a new school year.

Lunch time kids in school

Source: Getty Images/Westend61

Key Points
  • It is not mandatory for children under 12 to wear a mask in Australia.
  • According to the Australian Department of Health, only 4.5% of COVID-19 cases have been in school aged children.
  • Children over 12 years of age should wear a mask on public transport.
When 11-year-old Adaia Perez first heard of the devastating news of COVID-19 in January last year, most of her friends and Australia at large remained oblivious until the virus finally landed on our shores.

Everybody probably didn't really care much when we just saw it on the news. Like, it can’t just grow legs and come here.
Research by Kids Helpline in May last year showed that 39% of its younger callers felt anxious or worried about returning to a normal school and work life.

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Reason 1:

People are worried about a new wave of COVID-19, getting sick or their family getting sick or things getting worse.

Reason 2:

Normal isn’t going to be the same as it was before COVID-19. There will be big changes at school and life in general.

Reason 3:

For some people, being at home had some positives with it and they enjoyed being at home a little bit more.

A year on, schools around the country have learnt to manage changes amid the COVID-19 pandemic and largely stayed away from transmissions.

According to Associate Professor Asha Bowen, a paediatric infectious diseases specialist at the Telethon Kids Institute in Perth, the following measures helped.

  • Limiting adults on the school grounds at times
  • Hand washing and respiratory hygiene
  • Coughing and sneezing into your elbow
  • Cleaning your hand
  • Disposing your tissues after sneezing
Dr Bowen believes these are important activities for children to be taught and kept active in the school environment.

50 ألف طفل في أستراليا لا يستطيعون العيش مع أهاليهم ويحتاجون الى عائلات تحتضنهم
Source: Getty Images/Thomas Barwick


Sydney paediatrician and infectious diseases specialist Dr Archana Koirala says research found that even without physical distancing within schools, preschools and in play, children do not seem to be a real risk factor in transmissions. 

Currently we don't recommend that physical distancing is required in school settings.
The Australian Department of Health website states that only 4.5% of COVID-19 cases have been in school aged children. 

Meanwhile, Dr Bowen’s studies show a lower rate of transmission at schools in New South Wales.

SARS-CoV-2 cases linked to schools up to the end of term 3 last year showed a less than 1 per cent rate of transmission out of nearly 6000 traced contacts.

Children under 10 are much less likely to infect others with the virus and also to be infected themselves.
But the risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 increases for adolescents and high school aged children as they enter adulthood.

 
Girl wears pretty mask
Source: Getty Images/Larissa Veronesi


Dr Koirala recommends that children over the age of 12 wear a mask when using public transport.

Because there are adults and public transport is a lot more of a confined space.
The Australian public health advice does not require children aged under 12 to wear masks.

But Dr Bowen says that could change if further outbreaks take place.

For now, she is not too concerned about the new overseas variants as community transmission from these strains have not yet been recorded.

Right now, we don't need kids to wear masks in schools.
Born to an Asian mother, Brisbane-based Perez wore a mask in public throughout the holidays even when she attended private tutorial lessons.

Adaia Perez
Adaia Perez Source: Adaia Perez


She encourages parents to find mask designs that appeal to their children to increases their likelihood of wearing one when needed.

Think about how the mask is going to help you? If we don’t have a vaccine, it’s like our back up.
 Taiwan-born Yuna Chao says back home the health message is that “preventing the pandemic is like fighting war”.

Chao admits that she believes in absolute obedience when it comes to getting her two children to wear a mask in risky environments.

She says her children are familiar with the Taiwanese way of wearing masks in public and in schools which is an accepted social norm. 

Not only do you protect yourself but also others. Wearing a mask is fulfilling our duty. It’s very honourable.
While it is not part of the Australian culture to wear a mask in everyday life, Julianne, a Brisbane paediatric nurse encourages role playing at home to familiarise your children with wearing a mask in case the health advice changes. 

Let’s just have a play around and see how it goes. This is how mummy and daddy are doing it.
 
Teenage girl studying
Source: Getty Images/valentinrussanov


Dr Bowen says while practicing at home helps, parents need to teach their children the correct procedures of putting on and taking off a face mask.

Here are the steps.

  1. Ensure you only touch the parts around your ears
  2. Clean your hands before and after putting the mask on
  3. Check that the children are familiar with safely and comfortably putting a mask on
Julianne believes hand hygiene is more important than asking young children to put on a mask.

She also urges that children with cold and flu symptoms stay away from school as they may infect another vulnerable child who is immunocompromised.  

A sixth grader this year, Perez has already been through two schools and is excited to start a new school soon.

For children who may feel anxious about meeting new friends, Perez suggests friend hunting by attending after school classes such as sport or art.

If you don't, you’ve always got the set of friends that you’ve been with.
She is not fazed by the possibility of remote learning during outbreaks as technology has kept her friendships flourishing throughout last year’s lockdown.

I would say hi and ask them what they are doing at school. We would smile, do things and play together on the computer.
For high school students who are worried about catching COVID-19, Dr Archana suggests forming your own friendship bubble.

Choose a couple of people that you want to hang out with and maybe make that your little bubble.

 

For the latest Australian government update and advice on COVID-19, visit .

Call the on for more information on coronavirus.

For emotional support targeting children and young people under the age of 25, call Kids Helpline anytime on 1800 55 1800.

If you need language help, call the national translating and interpreting service on 13 14 50 and ask for your designated service.

Mum daughter on devices
Source: Getty Images/Tang Ming Tung



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5 min read
Published 27 January 2021 at 11:21am
By Amy Chien-Yu Wang