A Pediatrician’s Tips For Protecting Your Kids When They Go Back to School

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These are scary times – especially if you face sending your unvaccinated children back to in-person school or daycare while COVID-19’s Delta variant lurks. You’ll do what’s best for your children. But what might that be?

“Children who went back to school in person were much happier,” said Gaile Vitug, DO, pediatrician with Children’s Memorial Hermann Pediatrics Sugar Land. “Many children struggled to flourish academically, physically or mentally during at-home learning.”

Studies confirm her findings that while on-campus education excels, on-screen education flunked in the goal of keeping kids performing at their grade level.

With schools reopening, how can you protect your children when only kids 12 and up can get vaccinated?

First, rely on the preventive measures we used before vaccines: masks, social distancing, frequent handwashing and isolating ill kids at home.

Easier said than done? Dr. Vitug shows the way to ensure your kids follow the rules:

Talk It Out.

Explain to your kids why masks protect us and our community. “Kids are really smart and resilient, and they’ll understand,” she said.

Use very simple vocabulary for tykes under age three. They understand if you tell them the family is doing this to stay safe and healthy, just like when you wear seatbelts in cars.

With older children, you can talk about germs, COVID-19 and current guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Also, explain to them that these measures will let them be with their friends, Dr. Vitug added.

Get Children Involved.

Let them choose their mask or help to make or personalize one. “They’ll be more enthusiastic and prouder to wear their masks,” said Dr. Vitug.

Practice Makes Perfect.

Familiarize tots with masks by having them wear one at home for short periods of times so they become accustomed to them.

You also can put masks on some of their favorite stuffed toys and dolls. When the family goes on an excursion, wear masks and bring the masked toy.

Be Good Role Models.

Wear face coverings when you go out or enter indoor spaces other than your home. Show how you make them snug on yourself – and them. “Also, if our older siblings are doing it, younger ones are more likely to do it,” said Dr. Vitug.

Make a point of social distancing and noting floor markings when you see them. Also wash hands with soap frequently and thoroughly, counting to 20 or singing the happy birthday song twice. You might even take turns checking each other’s temperatures.

Picture It.

Tell them stories to explain why your family is playing it safe. If you’re at a loss for the right words, online books for different ages can help. Dr. Vitug recommends picture books at reachoutandread.org that explain COVID-19 precautions in simple terms children will understand.

Be Open About Peer Pressure.

Texas public schools cannot mandate masks or vaccinations, but Harris County strongly encourages both. “If children are not seeing other kids wearing masks, they won’t feel comfortable wearing one and that’s why it’s our job to make them feel secure,” Dr. Vitug said.

Remind them that true superheroes wear them and show your kids pictures of others in masks. You also can bring up the adage: “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?”

Make It A Game.

Just as you might entertain kids by looking for other state license plates, you can see who first notices people with face coverings. You might use tape and mark off social distances between dining room chairs or use pillows on sofas to separate family members.

Pack Something Extra In Their Lunchbox.

Sanitizing towelettes and gel mini-pumps will help them remember to clean their hands before snacks or taking off masks. They can ask nearby adults for special hand cleaners.

Also remind them to keep their hands out of their mouths and to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Throw used tissues in the trash. And if they don’t have tissues, they should cough or sneeze into their elbow. Do the same at home – and everywhere.


If your child has multiple health issues, talk with teachers, daycare and your pediatrician about concerns and review their protocols if a sick child comes to class. “The scariest thing is the unknown,” Dr. Vitug said.

If your child is at high risk, or suffering from complications recovering from COVID-19, you might adjust their schedule so they’re in school part-time. “Ultimately, you want your children to be happy and successful,” she said.

Be Open To Change.

“We’re in the midst of a pandemic, which can change day to day or week to week. We need to learn and adjust,” Dr. Vitug said.

Let your children guide you, she said. “They may adjust to their new normal more quickly than you do.”

For more information about COVID-19, visit https://www.memorialhermann.org/services/conditions/coronavirus.



What Parents Should Know

Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital recognizes it can be challenging for parents and families to navigate the overwhelming amount of information available regarding COVID-19 vaccines and kids. Below, we present frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccines to help you make informed decisions to further protect the health of your children and your family.

How do we know that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for children?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which granted Emergency Use Authorization of COVID-19 vaccines, is globally respected for its scientific standards of vaccine safety, effectiveness and quality. The FDA evaluated data from tens of thousands of study participants to ensure that each vaccine is safe. Based on this research, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that anyone who is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital.

If my child has food allergies, is it safe for them to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Unlike the flu shot, COVID-19 vaccines do not contain food products such as egg proteins. Be aware, however, that some people have an allergy to polyethylene glycol (PEG), which is used in many medications, including the COVID-19 vaccine. If your child is allergic to PEG or has experienced a severe allergic reaction to other injectable treatments, please consult with a doctor.

In general, children have been at low risk from developing serious illness from COVID-19. Why should they get vaccinated?

Keep in mind, low risk is not no risk. While most children with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or have no symptoms at all, severe illness and death have been reported in children under the age of 1 as well as children with underlying health conditions. Vaccines are helpful in preventing illness and disease, and the COVID-19 vaccine is no different. Getting vaccinated protects children from developing severe complications from COVID-19 and reduces the chance they could spread the infection to others.

My child has had COVID-19. Will natural antibodies be enough to protect him/her from another infection?

While doctors do not know yet how long we are protected after having COVID-19, they do know it is possible to contract the virus again – and early research is showing that natural immunity may not be as effective as vaccines in protecting against new strains of the virus. The CDC recommends vaccination even for those who were previously infected, especially as more infectious COVID-19 variants develop.

What side effects can my child expect after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?

As with other vaccines, children may feel tired or have a sore arm, low-grade fever and other flu-like symptoms following COVID-19 vaccination. However, these symptoms are typically mild and go away within 48 hours.

Does the COVID-19 vaccine have a long-term impact on fertility? How can I be sure it won’t affect my child’s development?

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence that any vaccine, including the COVID-19 vaccines, affects development or fertility. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that breastfeeding women get a COVID-19 vaccine so that antibodies can be passed through breastmilk and help protect their child from the virus.

There have been reports of heart inflammation in young people after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. How should this impact my decision whether to vaccinate my child?

Federal health officials – including those with the American Academy of Pediatrics – have advised that heart inflammation (myocarditis and pericarditis) is an extremely rare side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine. Importantly, for the young people who do experience this side effect, most cases are mild and individuals recover often on their own or with minimal treatment. Myocarditis and pericarditis are much more common in individuals who contract COVID-19, and the risks to the heart from COVID-19 infection can be more severe.

Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital believes in the safety and efficacy of all COVID-19 vaccines currently available and invites all members of our community 12 years of age and older to register for vaccination at www.MemorialHermann.org/vaccine-hub.