As things have started opening up worldwide, adults, teenagers and young children have mixed responses over the return to ‘new normal’. Various psychological studies have found that people of different ages are responding differently to this change and the most difficult assessment is for children of younger age. It is imperative to look beyond the obvious risks of returning after the pandemic and mentally assess your children’ and teenagers’ readiness for return to schools.
In Pakistan, the issue of mental health, psychotherapy, stress and anxiety is often taken in extreme and negative sense and is mostly related to adults. During the pandemic, international organizations like WHO, UNICEF and many others are constantly stressing on creating forums for psychological support of both children and adults. On the other hand, Pakistani parents are often found engrossed in their own anger, stress and anxiety over isolation and added house chores due to work from home and kids at home on social media forums.
However, this pandemic has put our children at a risk of mental instability more than ever before by taking away their energy outlets, social interactions, friends, decision making powers and link to nature. Since children are highly adaptive, staying at home for months has altered their nature and personalities in different ways and therefore, it is essential to consider these following factors before sending your children back to the new normal while risk of COVID resurgence still prevails.
Why going back to normal can be challenging for children?
Among various reasons for anxiety over return to normal, the most common reasons found in children include:
- Change to a sedentary lifestyle — For children, this means more screen time, games and videos. Thoughts of waking up early in morning and going through school ritual can now feel exhausting if strict routines are not maintained during the quarantine time.
- Fearful expectations of a new normal — Listening to COVID-19 related news and discussions at home all the time has created an unknown and silent fear in many children that things are never going to be the same as before. Constant reminders of taking precautions outside the home can overshadow the excitement of having a social life again.
- Considering home as the only safe haven – The confinement of children at home for months and constant reminders of parents to avoid going outside, has created a fear in children that outside is never safe for them.
- Fear of losing quality time with family – The daily hustle bustle of normal life was changed drastically during the quarantine period and a large number of kids got to have that extra attention from their family which they fear will fade away after schools open.
- Fear of lack of confidence in class – Being away from schools and attending online classes has greatly affected children’ confidence of having face to face conversations with friends and teachers which they built overtime. Online classes have provided a safe hiding place for less confident children and returning to a new normal can bring that fear to surface again.
How to address the Emotional challenges with school-going children?
To address the above highlighted challenges faced by children, these guidelines for parents are recommended by several psychologists before sending them to the new normal.
- Get them back into routine – To address the issue of sedentary lifestyle and its related anxiety, start building up a routine like pre-pandemic time. Getting back into normal routine of sleeping early and getting up early can reduce the stress and anxiety in children and help them prepare for school routine.
- Reduce exposure to TV news and negative discussions – Now that school opening is weeks away, there should be limited exposure of young children to news and talk shows related to corona virus. Try to divert your source of information to your personal tablets or phones so that the children are away from negativity concerning the pandemic through unreliable sources. Instead discuss these issues and concerns with the child yourself to have a healthy discussion without creating panic. Make them understand how their feelings or anxiety is normal and what your future plan is after schools open. It is also important to remind them of the positives of joining school again like seeing their friends, talking to them, able to learn new things and play games that does not break rules of social distancing.
- Take small measures to reintegrate children into social life – Many parents have completely shut off their children from visiting any store or open areas as a precaution against COVID-19. However, it is the best time to take small trips with children to well-ventilated superstores, a park, and informal meetings with school friends in open spaces to make them comfortable with outside world. This will not only increase their confidence in covid-19 situation outside but will also reduce their shyness in facing other people and friends.
- Ensure maintaining a caring and loving environment for children at home – It is extremely significant to not consider your children as a source of additional house chores. This pandemic has been mostly positive for children in terms of regaining the family time with parents and siblings. Therefore, for a smooth transition to school routine, it is imperative that parents continue to show extra concern and emotional support for children after they join schools. This will allow children to take this transition positively and not a source of detachment with family.
It is normal for every child to behave differently in current situation and the degree of emotional behavior can vary from extremely mild to extremely concerning one. The key for parents is to have open conversations with children regarding the situation and plan ahead of school opening to reduce stress and anxiety in children.