After a lengthy hiatus the children went back to school, navigating almost two months of learning time. Some older ones are vaccinated; others still very vulnerable. It’s been a time like no other. For the parent. For the child. A time where human tolerance, imagination, creativity, engagement, perception, physical, mental capacities; even financial resources were stretched to the maximum. And this was a universal phenomenon.
It is difficult to imagine a world that is different from the one we exist in.
A certain degree of abstraction is required to be able to live the lives of millions of children across the world. Morally speaking we must reach out to the most disadvantaged in the world and help strengthen them too in this devastating situation, but don't we need to put out the fires in our own backyard first?
So…. How can we help our own children?
Mental health: Children congregate in school. They come from different economic structures, traditions, values, cultures, and beliefs. They share their thoughts with each other. Some get influenced; others influence. It is important to check in with your child what he or she is hearing and believing from school. Eg. there are instances of children having experienced suicides in their household. Such children's life can be filled with trauma, anger, and depression. Other young minds can negatively be impacted by this child’s experience. Help must be extended to them through appropriate counselling.
Mental health issues could be moderate to severe in more ways than one. We live in times where every parent is a little nervous about the kind of influences their children might have outside of their controllable domain. Remaining on top of things, subtly engaging with your child to relate to his or her thought processes will help us guide them in the right direction.
Daily routine : From an easy going schedule to a timetabled one, children have had to reboot their systems to start afresh. End result: parent frustration to get them moving- wake up, brush, change, breakfast, and out-the-door in time! Exhausting I know but also a time to exercise superhuman patience. Can we perhaps prep the previous evening? Empower the child from choosing his/her outfit for school to making a choice about what nutritious breakfast she/he would like the next morning? We could provide them with all the ammunition to succeed. When decision making rests with the child, commitment to do the related task becomes his responsibility.
Learning challenges: Globally, even if schools have implemented digital learning, it hasn't proven to be effective enough. Forget about the imbalance even in the access to remote learning. UNICEF data tells us that one in three children across the world were unable to access remote learning. What kind of learning did they receive then? The cumulative loss during this period is troubling. Several reports and data being compiled today indicate that children would, on an average, have lost 8-9 months of learning during this period. And this is in the privileged countries across the globe. The underprivileged nations would record a higher period of loss.
It will take time for school systems to devise strategies to fill that gaping loss. How can we help? Be aware of basic skill development in all areas of learning. Speaking with your child's class teachers about areas that need strengthening can give you some guidance. Time can be set aside to address those needs at home.
Behavior challenges: The pandemic has taught us that isolation is not a normal condition for human existence. People have to meet, share their emotions, their needs with each other to maintain their sanity. Children have similar needs. Existence within the confines of their homes, with no other outlet has made children irritable, unreasonable and prone to misbehaviour. While our own patience was constantly put to test, the fact is also that we are the adults and ought to have better control than children. Human capacities are vast and tapping them to train them for the good requires a clear strategy. Redirecting children's energies against an organized timetable should help. The schedule that timetables segments of entertainment, academic work, social interaction, exercises to train life skills should fill a child's day and gradually normalize his/her routines.
The human mind has the amazing ability to recalibrate itself. A problem does not change; it is our approach to that problem that has tremendous potential for change. For our children and for the sake of their future we need to think differently now, more than ever.