COVID-19 has changed the way many of us conduct our daily lives. But as restrictions ease, our vigilance mustn’t, especially when it comes to our children.
According to health and government authorities, schools are now considered a safe place for students and present a low risk in relation to the spread of the virus.
“Queensland’s Chief Health Officer and Children’s Health Queensland recommends all families to follow the government advice about children returning to school, unless a child has a chronic or complex health condition and have been advised by a specialist that they should remain at home,” a Queensland Health spokesperson says.
However, with winter upon us and the seasonal cough and cold season kicking off, what do parents need to know about sending children to school?
WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOUR CHILD IS SICK?
Parents are advised to keep children at home if they have a cold or infection, but some families are confused about how long they have to do so. After all, those sniffles and coughs can hang around for weeks. How much school can our children miss? What is the right balance?
The Australian Department of Health’s advice is to isolate children who are showing any symptoms – such as a fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath. A COVID-19 test may be required.
“The main message for parents is that if their child is sick, they must not go to school,” a spokesperson tells My Weekly Preview. “They need to self-isolate and be assessed by a medical professional, who will take all factors into account. If they have been tested for COVID-19 they should not attend school until results have been received.
“If a child tests positive for COVID-19, the health authorities will provide advice about how long to stay in isolation and any close contacts who need to go into quarantine.
“If a child needs to stay home, either because they are in isolation or in quarantine, but they are well enough to study, parents should contact their child’s school for advice about learning from home.”
The spokesperson says it is possible children will need to undergo more than one test this winter season.
“Further tests may be required if a test is negative but symptoms persist, when symptoms recur, or when new symptoms develop. It is acknowledged that this can be difficult, but testing remains essential to controlling the spread of the disease.
“If they [parents] take their child and the test is unsuccessful, they should closely monitor their own health and seek a test if symptoms develop.
“While it is very difficult to distinguish between the symptoms of COVID-19, influenza and a cold, people should still treat the onset of new infectious or respiratory symptoms as a potential COVID-19 case in the current environment.
“While testing is essential to maintain the level of success that has been achieved, parents can reassure children that, while it is important to have the test, it is most likely currently to be negative for COVID-19.”
University of the Sunshine Coast senior lecturer in psychology Dr Rachael Sharman says parents can help kids to reduce the risk of spreading germs with simple queues.
“Children respond really well to visual reminders – you could put pictures on the back of your toilet door reminding children to wash their hands.
“Also hand sanitisers are now coming in various forms of handy clip-on and novelty varieties. Make it fun and creative; have the child clip their sanitiser to their clothes and remind them to use before eating and so on.”
And if a child does need a test, there are a few ways to prepare them for the nose and throat swab.
“You can help the child by allowing them to feel a swab, so they know what texture to expect, or watch a YouTube video of the test, especially the older children,” Dr Sharman says.
Some kids might have heightened anxiety if they’ve had a bad experience before or have difficulty understanding the need for the test.
“Usually the parents of that child, or a skilled paediatric nurse/doctor will have some tricks up their sleeve to best calm individual children,” she adds.
“A one-off [test] is unlikely to have long-lasting adverse effects psychologically – just as vaccines are routinely tolerated by most.”
HOW SAFE ARE SCHOOLS?
The Queensland government advises that schools have been identified as safe places for students and present low risk in relation to the spread of COVID-19.
It says specific measures will continue to be in place including physical distancing of 1.5 metres for adults; adults must not gather in or around school grounds, car parks, school gates and outside classrooms; and parents should use stop, drop and go or similar facilities rather than walking their children into school.
Students must also engage in regular effective hygiene protocols. Increased cleaning of high-touch surfaces such as light switches and door handles will continue, and technology such as video conferencing will be used for gatherings, meetings and assemblies.
HOW CAN YOU SUPPORT YOUR CHILD?
COVID-19 has disrupted many aspects of life and for children, this can affect them in many ways. Education Queensland’s Primary students’ return to school: Advice for parents and carers report says children may still feel a range of emotions during these times.
You may notice changes in your child’s behaviour, sleep, mood, interactions with others, or eating habits – these are all normal expressions of worry and by noticing and responding with care, you will help your child. The key is to identify signs of increased anxiety, stress or worry and help children feel safe and supported.
Having a clear school routine in place may also help – set regular times for waking up, for eating breakfast and heading to school.
Dr Sharman says providing additional and safe opportunities for children to socialise, even if it’s done remotely, can positively benefit nervous students.
“If the child is well enough to do so, remaining in contact with their teachers and school friends via whatever online platform is most practical retains an important connection to their work and social networks,’’ she says.
Staying COVID-19 safe
Be sure to follow health advice from the government. If you have any concerns or questions you can phone 13 HEALTH – 13 43 25 84.
Make your GP your first point of contact for advice and any required medical assessment.
Ensure that you keep your kids interacting with other kids while maintaining social distancing when possible.
Stay connected with your child’s school and use online tools and learning platforms if required.
Practise safe hygiene measures as a family – covering your mouth when coughing, washing your hands often – before and after eating and after going to the bathroom. Use antibacterial wipes and/or alcohol-based hand sanitisers when you can’t use soap and warm water.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible, especially when in public.
This article is accurate at time of printing. For up-to-date health information, visit health.qld.gov.au.
Study to research how kids are coping
Australian parents may have struggled through weeks of confinement, but the effect of lockdown in their little ones is yet to be revealed.
To build a picture of how children aged one to five and their families are coping with recent traumatic events, parents have been asked to join a national study.
AAP reports that University of Melbourne research fellow Dr Mira Vasileva says this age group is often neglected because people don’t think they can understand what is happening in the world. “But they are also affected by the behaviour of their parents, who might be stressed by working at home or being in financial trouble,” Dr Vasileva says.
Collaborative research between several Australian universities, called COVID-19 Unmasked, will seek to understand how families are coping. The main focus will be on learning how the pandemic could impact the children’s development and what mental health issues could arise. Parents have until June 30 to take part in the survey.
Meanwhile, Sunshine Coast educational and developmental psychologist Lisa Good of Bear in Mind Psychology says she was pleasantly surprised with how well children have coped during the past few months.
“I expected more anxiety, more concerns, and more depressed moods but in reality I saw more family time and a slower paced lifestyle that I think a lot of people appreciated,’’ she says.
“Don’t get me wrong, families were presenting as concerned about the risk of COVID-19 and there certainly were some devastating impacts, however, the majority of families appeared to adjust and work around it quicker than I was expecting.”
She suggests it may be helpful to ensure the conversations at home don’t focus too much on the pandemic. If you notice signs that your child might not be coping, speak with your GP. “It is also important to ensure that the dialogue in the household is not focused on COVID-19 statistics and updates and children are not being exposed to media outlets and announcements that are not directed at their developmental age and stage. I think it is important that parents watch for any changes in their children during this time and create an open space for them to voice any concerns they might have,” she adds.
“It would be unreasonable for us to expect all children and adolescents to bounce back into their normal routines without a little fear or anxiety. However, if parents are noticing that their children are really struggling to adjust… it is really important to visit their local GP and seek a referral.”