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Back to school advice for Western New York parents

With many students likely expected to return to in-classroom learning in some capacity, what can parents do now to get them ready?

BUFFALO, N.Y. — In many districts across Western New York, come September students will likely be returning to some level of in-classroom instruction.

But the school day is expected to be very different from years passed.

So what can parents do now to get ready?

Natasha Wechter sees back-to-school season from two perspectives: as a mom and as a teacher. She knows the uncertainty can be overwhelming.

Wechter told 2 On Your Side, "I think the biggest thing I would tell parents honestly is to have patience with your kids." 

She believes now is the time to start having those conversations about the safety precautions they can expect to see, so the return isn't as jarring.

"The more we talk to our kids and familiarize them about what's happening, the less scary it becomes," Wechter said. 

This is something she's doing with her daughter already, who's also heading back to school in September.

"Social distancing is part of her vocabulary now, and it's heartbreaking, but at the same time, it's their reality," Wechter explained.

"Just using those words and making them comfortable with it. She's really good about wearing her mask when we're out in public, so I think she'll be OK as long as we keep talking about it." 

Dr. Thomas Russo, the chief of infectious diseases at the University of Buffalo, told 2 On Your Side it's also important to educate children about COVID-19 and how it's spread. 

"I think it's also critical to teach your children about the concept of physical distancing," Dr. Russo said.

Dr. Russo added that over these next few weeks parents should find masks that their children feel comfortable wearing for longer periods of time and practice doing so.

He said it's also crucial parents remind their children not to share objects as they return to school.

"The one thing they're all gonna be tempted to share or pass to others is their phone, to show them pictures from the summer or a video or something. It's okay to share that with them but have them hold the phone and just turn it so that friends can see it and try to maintain distance as best as possible," Dr. Russo explained. 

And what about the mental health aspect of this?

"The best thing that a parent can do to support their child during this is number one to take care of themselves and manage their own feelings about the situation and talk to your kids," said Sarah Wierzbowski, the Director of Children’s Clinical Services at BestSelf Behavioral Health.

She added, "Talk to them about what to expect when they return to school, as they receive the reopening plans for their school. Give their child some information. Give them the facts of what to expect when they return to school but give it to them in small chunks of information that will be manageable for a child to process and be able to ask questions for each chunk of information." 

As parents continue to prepare for that first day of school, Wechter said it's important they remember they're not alone.

"We're all on the same team, which is to do what's best for our kids," said Wechter.