It’s back to school time. But how do you prepare your children for school during the time of COVID? We asked our Toronto naturopath, Dr. Segal, ND to share some tips on how to prepare children for back-to-school at a time full of uncertainty and with the possibility of new waves of covid-19.
As September approaches, many unknowns hang in the air. Normally I’d be thinking about the challenges of boxed lunches and school supplies. These days, it’s more like: how the little one will handle being isolated in a sick room at first sign of a cold. Or, what it’s going to be like in our “new normal” world where physical proximity to other children and teachers is discouraged. Not to mention the possibility of actual outbreaks in our school community, leading to further shut-downs that impact family life, parental health, and work-life balance.
One thing that I don’t feel a very high level of stress about is my child or family getting sick. Of course, it’s the goal to stay healthy. But as a naturopathic doctor who has done my research and regularly works with children and adults to support the immune system, I know something that most people don’t realize about viral illness: it’s not random chance that determines the outcome of a viral infection. It’s also not black and white, where you either have the full fledged, serious version of an infection, OR you’re totally asymptomatic. Rather, there is a whole spectrum of responses to any infection. In truth, the actual pathogen – no matter which virus or bacteria it is – is only half the equation. The other half is the health of the host organism, whether that be your kids or you. Everything from stress, to diet, to vitamin status, to sleep and even exercise, plays a real foundational role in that. I suggest we focus on the things we CAN control to create health in our kids and ourselves.
These basics make a REAL impact on a family’s actual risk of being affected, and point us towards healthy habits as we approach September. Here are a couple important ones you can work on right now, and next week for part 2 of this post, I’ll share some more tips.
Melatonin, made in the brain in response to darkness and sleep, protects the lungs and supports a healthy, balanced immune response. Melatonin supplementation has been found to reduce the severity of covid-19 infection. Melatonin is also higher in children and that may be a reason why they’re less vulnerable to serious illness from covid-19. However, this also speaks to the importance of prioritizing sleep and keeping screens out of the bed for children and adults alike. School-aged children need at least 10 hours of sleep and sometimes more, so as we prepare to wake up bright and early, it’s important to start shifting bed-time gradually earlier and to make that a priority. Having a bed-time routine and talking to your kids about bed-time about an hour before lights-out is very helpful in making this happen.
Very high levels of cortisol, an important stress and inflammation hormone, at the time of hospitalization was correlated with much poorer outcomes of covid-19 infection in one London study. There is an entire field of study dedicated to the relationship between stress and the immune system (psychoneuroimmunology). There is good stress and bad stress, and generally when a stressor can be successfully dealt with it builds resilience. When it becomes chronic or surpasses a child’s ability to cope, it can suppress immune function. Focus on building a sense of personal strengths and resilience in an age-appropriate way in your children. Daily routines that are consistent and feel good, from bedtime snuggles and stories to a good family sit-down meal or a walk, are great for helping children cope with stress.