As September knocks on our doors, one of the biggest fears and uncertainty is the ‘Back to School’ program. During these unprecedented times, returning to school must be exciting for many students who are bored of sitting at home, but for few, it could be the reason for major anxiety and fears. Embracing the new normal is what we all can do, however, some kids may need our help and support more when schools reopen.
Just like parents, children too are stressed and worried about the new school year which will be far from normal this time. With masks and social distancing, it will be challenging for those returning to school, especially the kindergarteners. For kids, who have opted for distance learning or online learning, it will be a different kind of experience too. Even though they will be in the comfort of their home, this form of remote learning with no interaction and no play with friends can be tiring and boring for some, especially those with short attention spans.
We must agree that for parents and children, this has been a difficult year and returning to school has been a difficult decision to make. Now the real challenge lies in making kids comfortable while at school or while studying online.
Stress on the Importance of Safety and Hygiene
The best way to deal with anxiety in children is to explain to them about the safety measures the school, the government and parents are taking to ensure their children stay safe and healthy. Anxiety in kids could also be because of months of staying and learning at home. For children starting kindergarten this year, it will be especially difficult because of the physical distance teachers and friends have to maintain. This means no cuddles, no hugs. Thus, explaining to them about the risks of coming too close to anyone or sharing lunch or other belongings is not recommended. Make them practice washing hands with soap frequently and cough or sneeze in their elbows. Make them understand why masks are mandatory and how they prevent the spread of infection. Before schools reopen, make them wear masks and wash hands frequently at home so that they get used to the new culture.
For kids staying at home and doing online learning, it is important to explain to them why some children get to go to school while they stay at home. Make them understand that as a family, you have decided to keep kids at home for everyone’s safety and because staying at home would keep kids safe and protected. For those who have elderly grandparents, sick, immuno-compromised or infants at home, they need to understand that their safety lies in keeping any kind of infection away from home.
Remind kids about the positives of the decision you have taken for them and from time to time ask them if they have any questions that you can answer for them.
Returning to School with No Friends
Returning to school for your child may not mean being part of the same group as his friends. A child may be anxious about being placed in a separate group than his friend(s) or he may discover that his closest friends are not returning to school. It is important to explain to kids about the options given to parents regarding back to school plans and why every family’s decision is right for them. Also, reassure them that schools will function normally when the pandemic is over and all the kids will return to school when it is safe. Along with this reassurance, it is also important to let them know that the schools might close down again if things don’t go as planned and if there is a second wave of Covid-19. This will prepare them mentally and give them time to adjust. Encourage your child to meet his friends online to catch up with them or discuss any assignment or study material.
Even for kids opting for remote learning, the absence of physical meetups with friends may be frustrating, the idea of chit chatting while studying may be missed too, but if families are comfortable meeting, children can have playdates after school hours. If not, social media, common online groups and video chats can help them stay connected with their buddies. Remember to monitor kids when indulging in extra online activities. It is important to balance online recreation with offline activities, including time outside, if possible.
Keeping a check on how your kids are doing at School or Online
Have conversation with your kids regarding school, friends, lunch time, play time, teachers, bullying etc. This will help you understand how well the kids are coping with the new school system and environment. Whether online or in-person learning, kids can face bullying, they may have separation anxiety or they may find it difficult to settle in the new environment. Some children find it difficult to express their emotions verbally. Watch out for any aggressive and anxious behaviour – it may indicate that everything is not good. Having friendly conversations with them will keep them connected and motivated. Resolve their issues by offering solutions. Remember that sometimes listening is what kids demand and nothing else.
Predators are always ready to target innocent kids online. Have an open dialogue with your kids regarding online safety and about who they communicate with and on what platforms. This is especially important because hackers and predators find new ways of entering chat/meeting rooms and kids can become their easy target. It is imperative that children understand and tell their parents or guardians about any discriminatory and inappropriate contact or chats. Encourage them to open up and discuss any such incident with family and be alert if you notice some unusual behaviour in kids. Chances are they are being bullied online or becoming victims of online abuse.
Be prepared with appropriate action if your kid faces any racial discrimination or bullying, both at school or online. Schools usually have protocols and policies in place should any kid face any such discrimination or bullying. Remember, there are helplines and protective mechanisms available to safeguard the mental health of kids.
Whatever you decide for your family is the best you can do. Oftentimes, you will feel conflicted by your own decisions but remember that this is part of emotional coping up. People will question your decision making but in reality, nobody can guarantee the safety of you or your kids, not even doctors. So, do what is in the best interest of your family. Stop fighting your feelings of not making the right choices for your kids. Part of the problem is not worrying but generating negative feelings and emotions due to the worry. Being a parent is hard, especially during this pandemic. Think positive. The positiveness you emanate from your thought process is absorbed by everyone else around you, especially the kids!
What are your thoughts on the ‘Back to School’ program? Comment below.