‘Back to School’ in a pandemic

‘Back to School’ in a pandemic


‘Back to School’ in a pandemic

By Kelly Peekstock, MD, MPH
Pediatrician, CMH Pediatric Clinic

back to school health checks

Keep your child on a healthy path.

As I’m writing this, many families still don’t know when or if their children will be able to return to school in the fall. While you might decide to put off buying new backpacks, there are some back-to-school preparations you shouldn’t neglect.

Even years after school ends, many of us still feel a rush of energy and a sense of renewal in the fall. It’s a time for learning, growing and reconnecting with friends. Please use this time to help a child you care about be well physically and emotionally.

Health checks

At the CMH Pediatric Clinic, we often see a lot of kids at this time of year for their annual well-child visit. These visits are an important part of protecting your child’s long-term health.

Rest assured that we are doing everything we can to keep you and your child safe while in the clinic. We schedule well-child visits at the beginning of the day and have a separate waiting room for people coming in for sick visits. Our medical assistants disinfect the exam rooms after each patient and the entire clinic is thoroughly cleaned nightly.

At your child’s well visit, the pediatrician or nurse practitioner will check that your child is growing and reaching developmental milestones, talk with you about any health concerns, and screen for mental health issues. It’s also vital that you keep your child up-to-date on vaccines (per CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines), even if they won’t be attending in-person classes at school.

Kids need to socialize

During the pandemic, I’ve seen many toddler- to school-aged children who are having difficulty reaching their developmental milestones in social skills, such as sharing, making friends, being patient, etc. These are skills that we often learn in school, on sports teams and with friends. It’s very important that you child have time to socialize with other children.

Virtual playdates are great, but masked activities outdoors are also considered low-risk. You might try taking a bike ride or playing lawn games. Some families have agreed to create a “COVID circle” of up to 10 people who all agree to practice social distancing with everyone outside the circle.

Resources for Parents

  • Pediatric care is available in Astoria and Seaside. Call today to make an appointment for your child:
    1. CMH Pediatric Clinic in Astoria, 503-325-7337
    2. CMH Medical Group-Seaside, 503-738-3002
  • “Parenting During a Pandemic”: Online learning and mental health resources from the CMH Pediatric Clinic’s behavioral health consultant, Misty Bottorff.
  • HealthyChildren.org: Health information for parents from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • MD 4Kids App: App for parents from OHSU’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Includes a symptom and dosage checker.

Schooling at home

It looks like some or all of the 2020-2021 school year will be done remotely. Families who have adapted well to remote schooling have one thing in common—routine.

Keeping a daily routine will improve your child’s emotional well-being, school performance and behavior. Just like a school day, your child should wake up, do their morning hygiene, get dressed, and eat a healthy breakfast. Depending on the age of the child and the routine that works best for your family, you might do school work in the morning, eat lunch, then spend the afternoon doing arts and crafts, chores and playing outside.

I strongly recommend designating an area or room in your home as the “school zone,” meaning that only school work is performed in that area. This helps kids stay on-task and provides them with a sense of separation between school and home.

If you have an older child who will be home alone, sit down together to talk about expectations. Hold them accountable, just like you would if they were at school. Consider using a daily checklist together so that they know what they need to accomplish each day, including age-appropriate chores to help them feel like they’re contributing to the family.

If your child has special needs such as ADHD or a learning disability, you may be facing some additional challenges as school starts up again. Be proactive about contacting your pediatrician if you think your child’s medications or therapies need to be adjusted.

Coping with anxiety and depression

You may notice that your child has been acting out. Talk with the other adults in their life. Be sure that you’re consistent with your expectations for behavior and with discipline. Make time to talk with your child. Ask what’s on their mind. Answer their questions about the pandemic and current events honestly and at a level they can understand.

The start of a new school year may also trigger feelings of anxiety and depression, especially among teens who feel like they’re missing out or who are worried about the future. If your child withdraws from family, friends or activities they enjoy, call your pediatrician for an evaluation.

Our behavioral health consultants offer in-person and virtual visits. Sometimes it helps to have someone outside the family to talk with. Kids are very receptive to a parent’s emotional state. They will follow your lead in dealing with difficult emotions, so be sure to seek help when you need someone to talk with.

Kelly Peekstok, DO

Dr. Kelly Peekstok is a pediatrician with the CMH Pediatric Clinic. She enjoys hiking, snowboarding, horseback riding, scuba diving and spending time with her dog and two cats.