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How to Talk to Your Child About Safe Hygiene Practices

Wash your hands. Cover your sneeze and cough. Don’t pick your nose. Keep your hands to yourself.

These are all typical things we’ve told our children to do at one time or another. During COVID-19, these reminders are even more important as we consider the health and safety of our children and families.

Schools, youth sport organizations and dance studios will be taking lots of precautions—heeding both local, state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations—to keep staff and kids safe as they return in-person. As a parent, you can also do your part to help your child stay healthy and avoid spreading the virus.

If your child is returning to school and/or sports this fall, their safety is probably top of mind for you. Here are four tips to help keep your child safe, engaged and healthy, both mentally and physically, when going back to in-person activities.

Helping Your Child Be Healthy and Safe

1. Practice Mask Wearing

Cloth face coverings are most important to wear when physical distancing is difficult. Depending on where you live in the country, some school districts and schools will be requiring masks throughout the day while others will not.

  • Talk to your child about when they’ll be wearing masks and when they’ll probably be able to take their masks off.
  • Role model good mask wearing behavior. “Practice wearing masks around the house and have kids go to the grocery store with you to see other kids wearing masks,” suggested Wendy Pauker, a child life manager at Banner Children’s at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center. “I can 100% guarantee that when they see other kids wearing masks, it will organically happen and become habit.”
  • Show them how to properly put on their mask (covering their mouth and nose), take off their mask (handling masks only by their ties or ear loops) and where to put them when done (placing in a special “dirty” bag or directly in the wash).
  • Allow them to decorate their own masks—personalize and make them their own—and give them choices as to what type of mask they will wear each day. “We encourage parents and teachers to allow kids to decorate their masks,” Pauker said. “You can use 100% cotton fabric masks and fabric markers. Super heroes wear masks. Doctors and firemen wear masks. They can wear their own masks too. The kids will be proud to wear their masks and show off their artwork.”
2. Encourage Proper Hygiene

At school, on the field or in the gym or studio, your child’s teachers and coaches will have their own set of rules regarding proper handwashing and sanitizing throughout the day or practice. Teachers will be explaining to kids about germs and the purpose of wearing a mask and handwashing to help stop the spread.

  • When the kids are washing their hands at home, have them sing a song or count to 20 so they know how long to wash for.
  • Teach them when to wash hands: after using the bathroom, playing outside, coughing, sneezing or blowing their noses, before and after eating, when entering a school or an activity and when they get home.
  • Hand sanitizer can be dangerous if ingested, so make sure kids—particularly little ones—only use it with adult supervision. Teach them how to evenly and entirely cover both hands and how to let it air-dry before touching anything else.
  • Discuss why it’s important to keep their hands away from their faces and masks. If you have a fidgety or anxious child, work with their teacher to find ways to keep their hands busy and away from their face during activities and school.
  • Practice coughing and sneezing in an elbow or inside a t-shirt if they are wearing one, so they don’t let droplets spread in the air.
  • Remind them to not share objects, toys, food or drinks with other classmates or teammates. Send them to school with their own water bottle, pencils, extra masks and gear that they will need for the day.
3. Focus on Emotional Health

“Social emotional health can oftentimes affect true physical health,” Pauker said. “If your child is back in the classroom, that in itself will bring back some sort of normalcy which will definitely help with emotional health. But regularly checking in on their mental health is important too."

The CDC has indicated children and teens are likely to respond stronger to the stress of the pandemic compared to other age groups. Your child may find it difficult at first to adjust to the changes or may be fearful of going back.

  • Check in regularly with your child to gauge how they are feeling.
  • If they have certain fears or anxieties, be honest, patient and provide them reassurance that everyone has their health and safety in mind.
  • Make time for play and other ways to enjoy themselves.
4. Keep Up with Well Checks and Vaccinations

Don’t let COVID-19 stop your child’s yearly well checks and vaccinations. The CDC recommends that children stay on schedule with their vaccinations during the pandemic. Nationwide there has been a significant drop-off of well-child visits and vaccinations. This can result in delays in diagnoses and treatment and possibly even worse, a secondary outbreak from vaccine-preventable illnesses.

  • Don’t delay in-person well-child visits.
  • Come prepared for your child’s visit with necessary forms, paperwork and any questions you might have regarding their health and wellbeing. This might even be a time to bring up any concerns your child might be having about COVID-19.
  • Start checking your child’s temperature every morning and asking them if they have any symptoms, such as a sore throat, headache or body aches, cough or upset tummy. If they exhibit any symptoms, they need to stay home.

Ways to Make New Healthy Habits Stick

You may be nervous about you child actually practicing these new hygiene habits when they go back to school or play a sport, especially if they are little, but you may be pleasantly surprised at just how quickly your child adjusts to these new, healthy habits.

“Children are naturally resilient and the vast majority will acclimate quickly to expectations about hand-washing, social distancing and masking,” said Timothy Johanson, MD, a pediatrician at Banner Health and clinical associate professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. “Even little ones will pick up these ‘new ways’ fast. Never underestimate a kid!”

To help your child build these new habits, try these techniques:

  • Be a role model: Continue to model good hygiene at home.
  • Be positive: Recognize and give positive reinforcement when you notice them following good hygiene practices.
  • Be patient: Practice makes perfect. Consistently and gently remind them when necessary.

With some practice and a little help from their loving parents, your child will adjust to their new habits and routines.

For additional information and parenting advice related to COVID-19, visit bannerhealth.com.

Anxiety Children's Health Parenting Infectious Disease COVID-19 Stress

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