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The End of Hugs and Handshakes?

As the new school year approaches, it’s important to discuss with your child about the upcoming changes that will be in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Limiting person-to-person contact is key to reducing spread of the virus. Yet healthy socialization and development still must be fostered among school-age children. How to keep young ones from touching surfaces and not their face is a difficult task, indeed — which is why hugs and handshakes will be discouraged for now. To ensure that social connections and well-being are maintained, other types of behaviors will be encouraged instead. 

Physical Distance, Healthy Connections

In the coming school year, you’ll see changes such as classroom desks spaced farther apart and all facing forward rather than clustered. This is meant to reduce proximity to anyone coughing or sneezing. Group restroom breaks after lunch or recess, for example, may be eliminated and replaced by solo restroom breaks. Playing and even learning may take place outside whenever possible, because social distancing is easier to manage there, and confined indoor spaces present a significantly higher risk for viral transmission. But even when kids are outdoors, congregating in large groups and intermingling will be discouraged, in favor of smaller “bubble” cohorts, to reduce chances of transmission. The Minnesota Department of Health has illustrated these and other scenarios in a helpful, free guidebook. 

Instead of hugs and handshakes, caregivers can encourage children to exchange a fist bump or elbow bump, or a friendly wave and smile to greet a friend. 

After school and on weekends, remember that if you let your children play with others outside, limit the activity to just a few friends and encourage social distancing. Be sure your children wash their hands before they come back inside. You can help your children by having supervised phone calls or video chats with family and friends, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends. Writing letters or postcards, making drawings and exchanging these in the mail — even old-fashioned customs like “pen pals” — may be a fun, inventive way to ensure learning and socialization take place. 

Handwashing Habits and Masks

After being in any public place or among others, the most important task upon returning home is to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water. Items such as shoes, clothes and backpacks are low risk for transmission, as long as you remember to wash your hands before eating or touching your face. Handwashing immediately after you step through the door should become your family routine. 

Children should wear cloth face coverings if they can reliably wear, remove and handle the mask throughout the day. If wearing a cloth face covering causes your child to touch their face too often, consult with your pediatrician. 

COVID-19 Symptoms in Children

COVID-19 symptoms tend to be milder in children, and the risk of severe illness from the virus is lower. Contact your doctor if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Runny Nose
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting, diarrhea or nausea
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache

If your child or anyone in your household is feeling ill, speak with your child’s physician prior to sending them to school. Testing also may be recommended or required by your child’s daycare or school.

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