NCIC Paediatrician Supports Sending Children Back To School Amid COVID Concerns

Thousands of children in Cumbria will return to school this week and next and while Coronavirus is still circulating in our communities, many parents may be feeling anxious about the next few weeks.

One thing for sure is the new term will feel very different for pupils and staff, but the North Cumbria Integrated Care Trust are promoting the return to school for the mental health benefits for children.

New rules to follow, new behaviours to enforce, including good hand hygiene, desks all facing the front and limits on how much children mix with other classes.

Dr Paul Whitehead is a Consultant Paediatrician at North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust and agrees children should return to school in September as recommended by the UK Government and by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Dr Whitehead said: “Children seem less likely to spread Covid-19 infections than adults. We have concerns about the impact Covid-19 has produced on the education, health and wellbeing of children in Cumbria.

“Although the county has been reported as experiencing a higher rate of Covid-19 infections than in many parts of the UK, the paediatric wards in Carlisle and Whitehaven have seen very few child cases throughout the pandemic.

“This is in spite of swabbing all children attending A&E or the wards with potential Covid-19 symptoms such as temperature, runny noses, sore throats and coughs and also for several months every child who required admission for any reason and their parents were swabbed as a matter of routine..

“No children in north Cumbria have required help with breathing due to COVID-19, no child has had to be admitted in order to manage COVID 19, and none have needed intensive care. Our experience has been mirrored across the whole of the North East and North Cumbria.

“The experience across the world has been that children have been much less affected than adults.

Dr Whitehead said paediatricians are concerned about the mental health of children during the Pandemic.

He added: “There is already experience from Scotland and other countries in Europe of children remaining or returning to school without any evidence for schools being the cause for local outbreaks. Children miss their friends. They miss the social interaction they experience in school that they most enjoy.

“Paediatricians are concerned about the mental health of children during the pandemic.

We are concerned about the potential for delay in the diagnosis of other medical conditions – home schooling is not easy either for parents or for children.

“We believe the welfare of the majority of children will best be served by returning to the classroom.”

TOP TIPS AS TO HOW YOU CAN SUPPORT A CHILD WHO MAY BE RETURNING TO SCHOOL

  • Remain calm yourself as much as you can. Keep in touch with schools and take part in any surveys they are doing. Be as honest as possible. Try not to have too many worried conversations in front of your children. Save these for after bedtime. Talk to a loved one or friend who you find helpful and reassuring.
  • Limit exposure to the news and especially social media. This is more likely to make you and your children feel worried and unsafe. There is also a lot of unhelpful speculation, sparse facts and a lot of anxiety and distress.
  • Assure your child that we don’t know anything for definite, but you will let them know as soon as we do. Don’t try to make something up. It is okay to say, “I don’t know”. This can be followed with, “…. But I’ll keep you safe”.
  • Allow your child to talk about their feelings and voice their worries, whatever they may be. These are strange times and their minds and imaginations may run away with themselves.
  • Listen, validate (“it’s completely normal to feel like that at the moment”) and reassure them that you are there and will make sure they are safe. If there is lots and lots of worry talk going around in circles, use activities to distract them and move on if possible.
  • If your child is having a difficult time, try to safely name their feelings. For example, “I can see that you are feeling angry / upset / sad. It is really hard right now and I completely understand why you might be feeling like this”.
  • Try to give your child some choices to help them feel in control. Two choices at a time is enough, such as what to eat at mealtimes.
  • Talk to your children and explain that school may be different when they go back. Again, listen to their worries, validate them and let them know that you and their school teachers will keep them safe.