The world talks about the ongoing fury unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic. News stories are all about businesses getting shut, people going unemployed, and the mental impact on citizens as they limit themselves to indoors to remain safe.
The impact of the pandemic on children is perhaps one of the lesser-talked about issues. With the lock-down beginning to ease globally, and schools being re-opened, the need of the hour is to think about strategies that prepare children for the challenges ahead.
What are the Challenges Ahead for Parents?
To be able to offer support, you, as a parent, must be aware of the challenges that your child is likely to face post school re-opening.
- Your child has been shut away from school during the prolonged lock-down, away from friends, teachers and the pre-pandemic school life. While they may have missed these elements immediately after the lockdown, the passage of time may have minimized the impact
Once school reopens, children may feel anxious, shy, strange or awkward, to visit their school, and meet their friends and teachers. School life may even seem intimidating because COVID-19 continues to be a looming threat.
- Being confined to indoors during the long lockdown could have had an impact on your child’s social skills. You may have ensured that your child has stayed in touch with his or her friends through online communication tools.
But children may find getting back to reality in the real world difficult. They may show reluctance or anxiety at the prospect of seeing their friends again.
- Some children, especially those that have been exposed to bullying and teasing, during the pre-pandemic school life, may feel anxious or frightened to return to school.
These children have remained cocooned in the safety of their homes and family during lockdown. When they are made to face the realities of school life again, they may undergo a significant amount of stress.
Such children may be frightened of having to face bullying, teasing comments, and unpleasant stares, at their schools.
- Children, in general, are wary of any form of change. The pandemic period has exposed children to drastic changes. When even adults find it difficult to adapt to such post-pandemic changes, it would be extremely unfair to expect kids to adapt to these sudden changes.
Kids may show negative feelings about returning to school. They may be worried about having new teachers. They may also find it difficult to comprehend the new post-pandemic classroom atmosphere where they have to maintain distance from their classmates.
- For children that have endured loss such as a loved one dying due to the pandemic, this period can be even more traumatic. Professional mental care should be provided to such children. Decision about their return to school should be taken after consultation with a mental health professional.
Some children may find it exciting to return to school after a long time. Some children may be reluctant or withdrawn. No matter how your kid reacts, here are some strategies to ensure that your kid is well-prepared to return to school:
Know how your Kid is Feeling about Returning to School
Assuming how your kid is feeling and knowing how your kid is really feeling are two different things. The first step toward preparing your kid to survive the pandemic is to listen to him or her.
Sit with your kids and ask them about their feelings regarding returning to school. Whether they feel excited, or downright scared and anxious, or have mixed feelings, acknowledge them.
Tell them that it is alright to feel what they are feeling, and that it is normal under the circumstances. Remind them that they are not alone in their feelings. Other people, including their friends and teachers, are more likely to feel the same way
Empathize with your Kids’ Feelings
It can be easy to set aside your kids’ feelings as childish trivialities. But remember that your kid is undergoing immense stress. The stress is not only about academic performance but also about returning to school amidst confusion, uncertainty and the threat to life, all raised by the pandemic. Put together, such stress can affect any kid’s emotional state.
Start by acknowledging your kid’s feelings without rubbishing them off. By acknowledging and not trivializing, you earn the trust of your kid. Once you earn your kids’ trust, you can get them to listen to your conversation and advice.
Make them Aware of the Precautions at School
One way of allaying the fears of your kids is by reassuring them that all safety measures have been put in place at their school. By doing so, you give them the confidence that the school has taken every care to ensure their safety.
In addition, communicate to your child the precautions that they need to take on their own to be safe. This would include talking to them about wearing masks while in public, washing their hands frequently, and maintaining social distancing.
It can be difficult for little kids to comprehend the significance of such precautions. Tell them that such measures are for their own good, and that following them would ensure that kids stay safe and healthy at school.
Share your Own Anxieties where Applicable
It could help if your kid knows that you too are as anxious as he or she is. Share your feelings and fears, and let them know how you are coping. By doing so, you convey to your child that they are not alone in their fears, and that even adults too face such fears.
By sharing your coping strategies, you instill in them the belief that the challenge facing them is not something that cannot be overcome.
Such conversations inspire your kid to face challenges directly. They will be more willing to listen to, and follow, the precautions that would ensure their safety.
Get the Old School Routine Back on Track
Words become more powerful when they are backed by action. Ensure that your conversations are motivating by implementing actions that put your kids on the track to the new normal.
One way to do this is to bring back the school routine that you followed for your kid before the lockdown.
The lockdown may have brought in new rules at home such as late sleep and waking times.
As the school reopening date gets closer, enforce the old routine by waking up kids soon, getting them to have an early breakfast, and putting them to sleep early. While the routine may be difficult to follow for the kids initially, they will soon shift to the new routine and stick to it.
This shift keeps them reminding that they would soon be at school, and makes the transition smoother.
Let your Kids Adapt to the New Norms at their Own Pace
Once at school, do not expect your kids to take to the new routine immediately. Expect ups and downs as your child struggles to adapt to the new life.
Extend support where you can. Reassure them, give them comfort, and let them know that you are there for them whenever they need you.
But make it a point to step back sometimes to let your child take the lead. Allow them to feel their emotions and give them enough time to understand, wade through, and settle into, the new routine.
Meanwhile, do not expect too much of yourself too. Step in where you can for your kids and give all the support. But do not increase the stress on yourself by putting too many demands on yourself.
Get Involved in your Child’s School Activities to Encourage their Interest in Academics
Talk to your kid about their daily activities at school. Even a simple question such as “How was school today?” can help start a conversation with your kid and encourage them to open up.
Show interest in your kids’ school activities. Listen to them when they tell you about the lessons or activities at school. Show honest appreciation for good work. Be specific in your praise. For example, instead of saying “good work,” tell them what really interested you, like, “It was a tough question. But I see that you have answered it correctly. Good.”
Being specific on details shows that you are not merely talking, but walking the talk. It also shows that you are making every effort to ensure that your kid adjusts well to his or her new life at school.
Maintaining such constant communication is crucial to let your kid know that you have time for him or her and that they can be open with you about their thoughts and fears regarding their school.
Encourage your Kid to Hope for a Bright Future
While helping your kid cope with the present is important, it is also crucial to give him or her the courage to hope for a better future. You could do this by talking to them about the things that they can look forward to in the future.
Talk to them about world history and how the world has reinvented itself each time it has gone through a crisis far worse than the current pandemic. Such conversations build emotional resilience in your kid, which can help them handle the present with more maturity.
Getting back to school after a lockdown can be overwhelming for your kid. But if you find your kid struggling to get back to the new normal, seek the assistance of the school. Talk to the teachers to understand your child’s difficulties. Support your kid wherever you can.
If you feel your kid needs more mental strength to face the pandemic situation, seek the assistance of a mental health professional and get necessary support.
Schools equip children with capabilities beyond academic excellence. Qualities such as healthy social behavior, self-awareness, empathy, and logical thinking, are critical life skills that enable children to grow into well-balanced adults.
It is therefore important to let children experience school life and its learnings. The best way that parents can support their children during this unexpected period of the pandemic is by equipping them with the know-how to battle the pandemic.
As the saying goes, this thing too shall pass. As parents, the emotional support you provide your children during the pandemic will remain with them both as an inspiring memory and a life skill.