How to keep your kids safe as they return to school

May 21, 2020

This article has not been updated recently

6 tips for protecting your kids from COVID-19

COVID-19 infection has been reported in children of all ages, however case numbers seem to be far lower than in adults. Current evidence suggests that they generally experience a milder form of illness than adults, with most infected children presenting with mild symptoms or none at all.

In the past few months, however, reports have emerged documenting children that have developed a more serious systemic inflammatory response. This new disease is scary for parents, but thankfully seems to be rare.

Nevertheless, as schools and nurseries in the UK gradually open up their doors again from June 1st, one question that many parents are asking is: “what can I do to keep my children safe?”.

Make hand washing fun

Teaching your children how to wash their hands properly with soap and water is a really simple, yet effective way, to help keep them safe. We’ve outlined four simple steps for effective hand washing in the diagram below. You could print this off and stick on the bathroom mirror as an easy reminder for everyone to wash their hands more often. 

The best way to get your little ones to do this is by making hand washing more exciting. Encourage them to sing their favourite song as they wash their hands. Tell them that by washing their hands, they’re like superheroes that are doing what they can to beat the bad guys. 

Above all, be patient. It takes time for children to learn how to master a new skill and get into the habit of doing it. Remind them that you are there to help when they need it.

Four steps for effective hand washing

Lead by example 

A little can go a long way when it comes to teaching and reinforcing basic measures that can help protect your kids. Children learn from the adults around them. By making a habit of regularly washing your own hands, avoiding people who are coughing and sneezing, and throwing away tissues after using them, your little ones will be more likely to practice what you teach them. 

Test their smell

A new loss of taste and smell (anosmia) have now been added to the UK’s official list of COVID-19 symptoms. Results from the COVID Symptom Study suggest that losing your sense of smell or taste may be a stronger predictor of coronavirus infection than fever.

Keeping track of any changes to your child’s sense of smell may be a good way to identify coronavirus infection early. Mealtimes are a great time to test this out. You could encourage food exploration by asking them what they can smell, taste, and see on their plate. 

Alternatively, if you have the time and resources, you could even turn it into a game using some of these ideas.

Make sure to also keep an eye out for other common COVID-19 symptoms including fever and a new, continuous cough. If you see any sign of illness consistent with coronavirus infection, make sure to contact your healthcare provider and follow NHS guidance by keeping your child at home and away from others. 

Track their symptoms

As children return to school, we encourage parents to take just 1 minute each day to log their health status on their behalf in our COVID Symptom Study app. This data will help our scientists better understand how the virus might affect kids and inform public health authorities how and where the virus might be spreading as schools reopen.

Encourage outdoor play where possible

Returning to school will be challenging for many children after spending weeks without interaction with their peers. Even more so if they aren’t allowed to play with one another. 

Lockdown and social distancing measures have played an important role in curbing the spread of COVID-19. However, a number of child mental health experts are urging that the social and emotional wellbeing of children is prioritised in decisions made around the reopening of schools.

Play teaches children how to regulate their emotions, form a sense of identity, and develop important social skills. Outdoor play and learning, which we know have a number of mental and physical health benefits, should be encouraged where schools have the facilities.

Encouraging outdoor play, either in pairs or within small ‘social bubbles’, may help reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection.

Listen to them

Your child may be feeling worried or concerned about the things that they see, hear, or read regarding coronavirus. As they return to school, they will be exposed to information and opinions shared by their peers and teachers. As a parent or caregiver, it’s important to reassure them that you are there to listen to them when they feel scared or unsure about the things that they’re hearing. You don’t need to have all the answers, but just knowing that it is safe to talk to you about their concerns can help them feel calm. 

If you aren't quite sure where to start, check out these resources:


  • Although children can be infected with the coronavirus, evidence suggests that most present with mild symptoms or are asymptomatic
  • Encouraging regular, thorough hand washing is a very effective way to protect your children against infection
  • Testing your child’s sense of smell may help you to identify signs of COVID-19 infection early
  • Encouraging outdoor play and learning at school may be a valuable way of minimising infection risk
  • Report your child’s health status on their behalf using the COVID Symptom Study app. This will help us better understand how the virus affects kids and identify potential COVID-19 hotspots as they return to school.

Has your child been sick or injured during the lockdown period?

Help researchers better understand what impact this period is having on parent’s actions and decisions when caring for, or seeking help for, a sick or injured child.

Findings will be used to inform the development of resources for families, which can be used both while social distancing and in the future, which will aim to help families make decisions when they are worried about a sick or injured child.

Learn more about this research and complete the survey here.

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