Back-to-School FAQs

Safety While At School
What tips do you have for packing a lunch that will be easy for my elementary child to open all items?
How often should I be washing/wiping down backpacks, lunch bags and other school supplies?
What type of mask should my child wear at school?

Bus and Transportation

My children walk to and from school with friends. Is that safe if they wear their masks?
As we go back to school and sports, is it safe to carpool? And what safety tips do you have for during the carpool?
W
hat tips do you have for when my child rides the school bus?

Stress/Anxiety

Our whole family is anxious about our children returning to school in the fall. What strategies can we use to help reduce some of that anxiety?
My child seems more anxious and irritable. How do I know when I should seek out the help of a professional?

School Physicals/Well Exams

Is it safe to get vaccinations while COVID-19 is a risk?
Should my child get their yearly physical/well exam?

Ergonomics

How can I create an ergonomically friendly study/home school environment for my kids?


Back to School FAQs - Safety at School

Safety While At School

What tips do you have for packing a lunch that will be easy for my elementary child to open all items?

EXPERT: Manju Thomas, MD, LVPG Pediatrics–Easton

Packing lunch for an elementary school child should actually be elementary and not really complicated. It starts with using the right lunch box. Make sure it’s easy to carry, easy to open and easy to maneuver. A bento box with a simple latch is my personal favorite and one that I recommend to parents. It’s important to take your children shopping for their lunch box and make sure it’s easy to open and reasonably sturdy.

Make sure you don’t pack too many food choices in the lunch box – I suggest no more than three components for lunch. Too many choices sometimes cause kids to feel overwhelmed and they end up eating very little lunch. When possible involve your child in the decision-making about what is packed in their lunch.

Here’s what you should pack

Main dish: Your child’s main lunch food should have both carbohydrates and proteins – consider foods like eggs, chicken, hummus, etc. It also should be easy to eat, like a sandwich, pasta, pancakes or mac and cheese.

Fruit or veggies: You could pack apple slices, grapes or a peeled orange, or vegetables like baby carrots, cut celery or cucumbers. Use zipper bags when needed.

Drink: Hydration is very important. Kids should have recyclable water bottles and should be encouraged to drink at least twice a day in school. If you pack juice (or other packaged foods like yogurt), make sure your child can easily open the package.

Tip: Make sure you don’t put hand sanitizer in the lunch box. Consuming hand sanitizer can have very serious health implications for children.

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How often should I be washing/wiping down backpacks, lunch bags and other school supplies?

EXPERT: Caitlin Herman, CRNP, LVHN Children’s ExpressCARE–Palmer Township

We’re still learning about the novel coronavirus and being cautious is prudent. We believe face masks, social distancing, handwashing and staying home if ill are the most important measures to take; however there are other factors to consider when preventing spread of this virus. Cleaning surfaces is certainly one of them.

Supplies, lunch bags and shoes may be sources of high-touch, high-risk contact. We must consider cleaning these items, but how often and how?

Backpacks and lunch bags: I recommend wiping these down upon arrival at home daily with a disinfectant if a smooth or “non fabric” surface.  If fabric, I recommend spraying with a disinfectant spray such as Lysol. I also recommend washing cloth items once a week.

Tip: When packing lunches, consider using disposable containers such as plastic bags, and juice boxes instead of cups or thermoses.

Shoes: Children ought to remove their shoes prior to coming into the house.
Spraying their footwear daily with disinfectant may be prudent.

I also recommend, when possible, having a pair of shoes primarily for school use. This may help reduce transmission of germs in and out of the house.

School supplies: Make sure kids are using their own items, and items that get taken to and from school should be wiped down daily. Remind children not to put pencils and other items in their mouth or near their mouth.

Remind children not to take things from others, and if sharing is needed, to wipe down the items prior to use if possible.  It is a good idea to encourage regular hand washing or use of hand sanitizer throughout the school day.

Tip: If possible, consider having children keep a set of supplies at school and a set for at home so there is no need to transport these items.

Face masks: Fabric face masks should be washed daily after use. If feasible, I would recommend getting one mask per day. Remind your children to only take their mask off when advised, and to adjust it by the ear straps and not grab where the mouth/nose is.

Wintertime items (coats, mittens, hats, scarves): Wipe/spray coat daily and wash products every other day if contact with high-touch surfaces. Consider washing items in the washing machine once a week if appropriate.

Hand sanitizer: I would recommend allowing children to keep a small hand sanitizer in their backpacks/desks. Teach them how to properly use this product.

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What type of mask should my child wear at school?

EXPERT: Scott Rice, MD, LVPG Pediatrics–Fogelsville

From repurposed bandanas to store bought face masks, face coverings vary widely. The most important aspects concerning effectiveness of a mask are fit and fabric.

  • Fit – Your child’s mask should fit snugly against her or his face and cover the nose and mouth. A snug fit keeps the mask from slipping and helps reduce the temptation to touch the mask throughout the day. A proper fit also means less of your child’s respiratory droplets will enter the air. This is important to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Since face shields do not fit snugly against the face, they should always be worn with a mask.
  • Fabric ­­­– Mask fabric should be at least two-ply and made of a breathable fabric that is not sheer. Masks should not be vented because the vent does not filter exhaled air and allows germs to travel into the air that others breathe.

Tip: Remember – wearing a mask is only one piece of the puzzle. Keep your child home from school when feeling sick, encourage him or her to practice frequent hand washing and remind your child to keep distanced from others when possible.

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Back to School FAQs - Transportation Safety

Bus and Transportation

My children walk to and from school with friends. Is that safe if they wear their masks?

EXPERT: Kimberly Brown, MD, VHP–Children’s Clinic at Lehigh Valley Hospital

Walking to school with a friend is a good way to get exercise and can be done with minimal increase in risk if the following guidelines are observed:

  • Parents must assess their children for symptoms daily and must not send them to school if they have symptoms (such as fever, cough or other symptoms of illness).
  • Students must wear a face mask properly at all times.
  • Students need to maintain a distance of at least 3 feet apart while walking to school.
  • Students should not hold hands or share food or drinks during the walk.

Tip: Younger children (elementary school age) need to be supervised by an adult to reliably observe these guidelines. Older children might be responsible enough to observe these guidelines on their own.

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As we go back to school and sports, is it safe to carpool? And what safety tips do you have for during the carpool?

Expert: Kimberly Downes, DO, LVPG Pediatrics–East Stroudsburg

Carpools can be an important transportation option for families as kids head back to school and activities. Here are some steps you can take to optimize safety while carpooling:

  • Keep a consistent carpool group to minimize potential exposures to illness.
  • Talk with the other families in the carpool about what steps you are taking to protect yourselves from illness in your daily lives. Make sure you are all on the same page.
  • Mask up while in the car!
  • Seat passengers as far apart as the vehicle will allow.
  • Roll the windows down (weather permitting) to keep fresh air circulating through the car.

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What tips do you have for when my child rides the school bus?

Expert: Pradeep Adumala, MD, LVPG Pediatrics–Lantern Lane

For riding on a school bus, I have three important reminders that you can share with your child to help him or her limit (and prevent) contact with germs that cause illness:

  1. Wear your face mask: Remind your child to keep his or her face mask on the entire ride and not to touch it.
  2. Watch what you touch: Remind your child to not touch the seat in front of him or her. There may be germs on the seat and limiting what is touched is always good.
  3. Keep your hands clean: Have hand sanitizer in your child's backpack that can be put on after riding the bus.

Tip: Remind your child to avoid touching his or her face with unwashed hands, especially the mouth, eyes and nose.

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Back to School Stress and Anxiety

Stress/Anxiety

Our whole family is anxious about our children returning to school in the fall. What strategies can we use to help reduce some of that anxiety?

EXPERT: Paul Siegfried, MS, Behavioral Health Education Specialist, Department of Psychiatry

During this time of uncertainty, it is important to understand that feeling anxiety is normal.  Anxiety is our body’s automatic fight-or-flight response that is triggered when we feel threatened, under pressure or are facing a challenging situation.

As children go back to school, there are several steps family members can take to help reduce their anxiety:

Listen carefully to your children. Children give off verbal and non-verbal cues about their anxiety levels. Pay attention to these cues. Children can convey anxiety and emotional suffering in different ways. It can emerge more as decreased tolerance, increased frustration, isolation and tantrums (in young kids).

When a child appears more anxious, help them to understand that it is helpful to talk about how they are feeling with an adult. Giving children a bit more latitude and time to process the many disappointments related to COVID-19 is important.

Model calm. Parents also give off verbal and non-verbal cues, which children can detect. By reinforcing a sense of calm, it will lessen a child’s anxiety. Consider engaging your children in a daily mindfulness practice like deep breathing.

Have a routine and stick to it. Predictability is reassuring to a child and having a routine can aid them in adjusting to this new normal. Inconsistent experiences may produce more emotional upset and anxiety.

Focus on stress-reduction activities. We know from science that there are some habits we can engage that increase happiness and help mitigate anxiety. These include practicing gratitude, exercising, healthy eating habits, social connection and adequate sleep.

Be kind to yourselves. There is no one right way to cope with the emotional challenges that living in the time of COVID-19 presents. Do not expect perfection of yourself or your children. Holding ourselves up to unrealistic standards can increase our anxiety. Recognizing this is a very difficult and uncertain time and accepting that emotions will run high at times will aid coping. This will pass eventually, and children and families are resilient.  It might help to talk about previous times when your family faced adversity and got through it.

Limit time on social media, and your daily intake of COVID-19 news.  The news serves a vital role in keeping us informed, but it can also propel our anxiety into a fight-or-flight feeling. It is good to be aware so that we can take specific actions needed to protect ourselves and our loved ones. However, keeping the news on throughout the day needlessly may serve to increase anxiety.

Get help. You don’t need to do this alone. If you are experiencing an escalation of anxiety, talk to a professional who can help you through this difficult time.

Encourage your children. Wear a face mask, cough into your elbow, avoid touching your face, wash your hands frequently, and stay at a distance from others as directed by adults. Taking care of yourself will help everyone to stay safe.

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My child seems more anxious and irritable.  How do I know when I should seek out the help of a professional?

EXPERT: Mackenzie Mady, DO, LVPG Family Medicine–Schuylkill Medical Plaza

There can be a variety of a reasons – including environmental, medical and psychological – that may cause a child to suddenly act more anxious or irritable. It can be challenging to determine the underlying cause. However, it is imperative to try to determine the underlying cause to target the appropriate intervention and/or treatment.  Your child’s health care provider is someone who can help understand what is happening and how to treat it.

Sometimes these symptoms can indicate an underlying anxiety disorder. Anxiety can present in children in ways that are both similar and different from adults. Like adults, a child may have social anxiety (manifesting as a fear of going to social events, for example) or generalized anxiety (displayed as concern about future events or worry over academic/athletic performance). Children may not be forthcoming about their concerns and worries for a variety of reasons, including a difficulty verbalizing their feelings, desire to be compliant, etc. Instead, a parent may see other signs, ranging from difficulty sleeping, decreased concentration, avoiding school, and physical symptoms such as frequent headaches and stomachaches.

A further discussion with your child’s health care professional is warranted if there are any concerns for the above or other changes in behavior.

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Back to School FAQs - Well Exams

School Physicals/Well Exams

Is it safe to get vaccinations while COVID-19 is a risk?

EXPERT: Laura Darrow, DO, LVPG Pediatrics–Richland Township

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has reminded the world what it’s like to be vulnerable to a disease and the importance of vaccination. A few months ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC reported a drop in childhood vaccination rates. This puts our communities at risk for outbreaks of preventable illnesses. Fortunately, given the thorough protective measures, medical offices are some of the safest places to visit.

Tip: If you are unsure if your child is up to date on his or her well-child care, please reach out to your child’s health care provider by phone or through the MyLVHN app.

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Should my child get their yearly physical/well exam?

EXPERT: Kelli Harajda, MD, LVPG Pediatrics–Center Valley

It is extremely important that you not delay your child’s yearly well exam during the COVID-19 pandemic. Annual exams are crucial for tracking your child’s growth and development and keeping up-to-date with recommended vaccines. In addition to those important reasons, an annual check-in with your child’s health care provider can help you and your child talk about ways to manage all of the unique challenges brought on by the pandemic itself.

You and your family have had to make significant alterations to your routine life, making it difficult at times to focus on healthy eating and physical activity. Isolation may have brought about new obstacles for those with mental health conditions as well. It is important to discuss any of these new concerns and to address chronic medical problems your child may have, such as asthma, that can increase their risk for more severe illness if they are exposed to the virus.

Our offices at LVPG Pediatrics are committed to keeping you and your child safe and healthy during your well visit. We have implemented changes to our office and check-in procedures to follow proper social distancing protocols, allow complete cleaning of rooms between patients, and we require face masks to be worn by patients age 2 years and older as well as a parent or guardian who comes to the appointment to help protect patients, their families and our staff. If you have any questions about the preventative safety measures being taken at your office, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.

Tip: Don’t delay your child’s health care. A little prevention goes a long way to reduce risk for illness or chronic conditions.

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Back to School FAQs - Ergonomics

Ergonomics

How can I create an ergonomic-friendly study/home school environment for my kids?

Expert: Stephanie Hassler, occupational therapist, Coordinated Health Bethlehem

With many students attending school virtually, it’s important to create a study and home school environment that promotes healthy ergonomics – a study space that fits your student and doesn’t cause negative side effects like muscle aches/strains or even eye strain.

Tips to prevent back pain

When you work at a desk all day in a forward or slouched position, back pain or back injuries can occur. To avoid that try these suggestions:

  • Use a good chair with lumbar support in the appropriate position (6-10 inches above the seat pan). If your current chair does not meet this need, an additional lumbar pillow can be added.
  • Sit-to-stand desks allow variety in position, which can help prevent back issues. However even with a sit/stand desk, your student shouldn’t stay in the same position too long. The recommendation is 40 minutes sitting, 10 minutes standing and 10 minutes moving for each hour of seated work.

Tips to prevent neck pain

Neck pain is a frequent side effect of sitting at a desk too long, especially if the monitor isn’t properly placed. In order to prevent neck pain, try these ideas:

  • Computer monitors should be at eye level and straight in front of where your student is seated. If he or she looks down or to the side all day, it can lead to tightness on one side of the neck. Monitor risers can help put the monitor at the proper level.
  • Monitors should be approximately 18-40 inches away. Farther away can lead to protracting the neck forward or visual problems.

Tips to prevent wrist and elbow pain

With so much time being spent online, proper wrist and elbow position is important to help prevent tendon irritation and/or nerve compression. You can help prevent wrist and elbow pain by trying these suggestions:

  • When seated, your student’s arms should be at his or her side in about a 90-degree angle. Even though arm rests seem like a way to support arms, they can cause pressure to the inside of the elbow which can result in nerve compression.
  • Wrists should be in neutral position (or straight). Wrist rests, mouse pads and under-the-desk keyboard trays are available to correct any issues.

If your student starts to experience wrist, elbow, neck or back pain, it’s time to talk with their health care provider. They can provide advice on how to manage her or his pain and figure out how to relieve it.

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