LONDON, ONT. -- As some parents prepare to send their children back to school this September, health officials say part of the preparations should focus on some of the new health and safety protocols that children will have to follow.

“It’s really important for families, for parents, and for kids to start having conversations about what’s going to be the same? What’s going to be exciting? And what’s going to be different this year because of COVID-19?” says Dr. Alex Summers, associate medical officer of health from the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

Cohorted classrooms, physical distancing, extra hand hygiene, and masks should all be discussed, says Summers.

Some of these measures should also be practiced ahead of time in the home. However, he says there’s another important step parents should be doing.

“The other conversation we should be having with kids is asking them how they are feeling? 'Are you having any symptoms of a cough or a cold?'” says Summers. “These aren’t conversations we often have with kids we mainly watch them and see what happens. It’s important we talk to them about how they articulate this to us so we can get them tested and make sure they don’t have COVID-19.”

Of course all the changes and new measures can easily lead to fear and anxiety.

The Vanier Children's Mental Wellness Centre in London recommends tackling any fears early.

“Talk about things ahead of time and practice those things, and so things like putting arrows on the floor and practice what they mean. 'How does it feel? What are you concerned about?' I would also encourage families to normalize this,” says manager at Vanier, Misty Gray.

Gray says it takes time for a child to process new information so the sooner parents start to have the conversations and practice, the better.

“I would also encourage families to normalize this, that all children are going through these new ways of attending schools and that’s ok, and to normalize that for them,” says Gray.

She adds if a parent noticed their child acting different or more anxious once school begins its important to reach out for help.

What you can practice with children before school begins

  • Hand washing for 15 to 30 seconds making sure to get between all the fingers (One tip is to sing happy birthday when washing hands to make sure it’s long enough)
  • When at stores with kids and there are arrows on the ground, point them out and practice walking in the right direction
  • Physical distancing, reminding kids not to hug their friends or high five their teachers
  • Wearing masks - kids can practice wearing them from time to time indoors to get used to it
  • Understanding how they are feeling when it comes to cold symptoms and how to articulate them
  • Talk to your kids about the fact some students and teachers may have to go home sick from time to time
  • Once school starts observe any changes in your child, in case of mental health concerns. (Examples: Are they eating less, sleeping less, more agitated or moody, not wanting to engage in activities).