Julie Cunningham, MPH, RDN, CDCES, IBCLC
Whether your children are attending class in person or learning remotely this year, keeping them healthy is top priority. If you have a child with diabetes, your concern for their well-being has likely intensified as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. You're not alone!
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with type 2 diabetes — including children — are at a higher risk for complications related to the novel coronavirus. The information is not as clear-cut for people with type 1 diabetes, though. At this time, the CDC reports that people with type 1 diabetes might be at an increased risk of complications.
Thankfully, you can use a number of strategies to help your child stay healthy and happy this school year.
Here's how to keep your child as safe as possible, whether their school district operates in person or virtually:
Staying healthy at school while learning in person
In-person learning is inherently a higher risk than online learning — it puts your child in the same space as others who could potentially be infected with COVID-19. Since some people can be infected without symptoms, there's a chance that those asymptomatic people will unknowingly spread the virus.
But kids are social creatures, and in-person learning has lots of advantages from a social and emotional perspective. If you decide that in-person learning is best for your child, here are some tips to help them stay healthy at school:
- Make sure your child wears a mask (that covers their nose and mouth) to school daily.
- Update your child's immunizations, including their flu shot.
- Establish a hand-washing routine immediately before eating. If your child can't access soap and water before eating at school, provide them with a hand sanitizer that's at least 60% alcohol, as the CDC advises.
- Teach your child not to accept food from other students because of the potential for spreading germs.
- Require hand-washing as soon as your child gets home.
- Talk about social distancing. Your child should stay at least six feet away from others at school.
- Check for signs of illness before school daily. Anyone with a headache, cough, body aches, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, or a temperature above 100.4 should stay home.
- As always, be sure that your child's teachers have a clear plan for managing their diabetes.
- Consider using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to keep an eye on blood sugar levels. Using a CGM will allow you to monitor your child's blood sugar even when you're separated from them.
Staying healthy at school while learning remotely
Clearly, there's less risk of catching the coronavirus when learning at home, so that's a plus for virtual learners. However, the downside of remote learning is the limited social time children get with their peers when they learn online.
You'll still need to be vigilant about keeping the coronavirus out of your home, even if your family decides to pursue remote learning — but the larger concern might be taking care of your child's emotional and social needs. Here are some tips to ensure your child stays engaged as a virtual student:
- Give your child a quiet, well-lit space for schoolwork.
- Establish a routine to help your child keep pace with assignments.
- Encourage your child to check their blood sugars on a regular schedule, such as just before meals. For younger children, this is a great time to teach carb counting.
- Older kids can use a blood glucose log and a carb-counting diary as a math project.
- Find ways to stay connected to friends and extended family. Consider virtual chats with people you aren't able to visit during the pandemic.
Tips for deciding between virtual and in-person learning
Some families don't have a choice — their school districts are only operating in person or virtually. If you do have to make a choice, you might feel like you're deciding between your child's physical and mental health. Some factors to weigh in your decision include:
- Your confidence that your child will receive extra assistance with diabetes management at school. Will school staff be spread thin due to the extra demands during the pandemic?
- The level of community spread of the coronavirus in your community, and your school's plan for reducing the spread.
- Whether you have any household members who are considered at high risk for COVID-19 complications.
- Your confidence that your child can keep up with their diabetes management while at school.
- Your confidence in your child's ability to stay engaged in remote learning.
- Your ability to supervise your child's remote learning. Can someone be at home to help manage your child's schoolwork as well as their diabetes every day?
- Your child's need for extra services, such as speech or occupational therapy, and your school's plan for meeting those needs.
When it comes to helping your child stay healthy at school, there's no right or wrong answer. Each family's situation is different, and each family must weigh options and make the best decision they can. The CDC released a handy decision-making tool for parents who need help identifying the best choice for them.
Parenting isn't easy. Parenting a child with diabetes adds an extra layer of worry, and parenting during a pandemic is even more challenging. Take a deep breath, make the best decision you can for now, and keep looking toward a return to normal. You've got this!