Authored by Dr Dr. Shradha Shejekar, Consultant – Psychiatry, Aster RV Hospital
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions to daily life and children are feeling these changes deeply. While a return to school is welcomed by many students, some are facing anxiousness and fright. The transition from real time school to virtual and again real time hasn’t been very smooth for some. While many children have dealt well with restrictions and school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, for others it was challenging to cope with all the changes and uncertainty.
Post-pandemic, as children return to their physical classrooms in huge numbers, mental health specialists are seeing a disturbing rise in anxiety and stress levels. A lot of students are facing anxiety related to exams, facing teachers, answering questions, discipline and punctuality, peer interaction and other school-related issues. A lot of primary school children are facing panic attacks due to the fear of facing teachers and answering questions in the classroom. Apart from this a lot of children are finding it difficult to complete class work as they have lost touch of writing fast and hence find the time inadequate to copy from the board. Even completion of tasks has become challenging due to decreased dexterity.
The grief, anxiety, isolation and depression children have faced during the pandemic is also spilling over into classrooms and hallways, resulting in crying and disruptive behaviour in many younger kids and increased violence and bullying among adolescents. For many other children, who keep their grief and fear hidden, the burdens of school have become intense.
Children are lacking in socio-emotional skills like empathy, self-control, expressing feelings, decision making, social awareness, discipline along with basic skills like reading, comprehension, or solving simple math problems which is worrisome. Added to this are some social and interpersonal concerns. Children are becoming less social and lonesome. They are finding solace in gadgets and mobile phones instead of indulging in physical activities and playing games. Social interaction is making them irritated and causing social anxiety. They are taking time adjusting to a socially stimulating environment after a long haul of living in isolation within the four walls of their homes.
As children often take their emotional cues from the key adults in their lives – including parents and teachers – it is important that adults manage their own emotions well and remain calm, listen to children’s concerns, speak kindly and reassure them.
Teachers should ease the children into the curriculum. They should be given enough time and opportunities to calm the anxiety. Weekly class tests, orals on short topics, handwriting and dictation practice on a regular basis should be strictly indoctrinated to help children face their fears. Teachers should be sympathetic towards children, avoid punishments and try warning the children until they get adjusted to schooling. Classrooms can be made interesting through socialisation, role play, interactive sessions.
Parental help goes a long way in monitoring child behaviour and psychology. Parents should be vigilant about their children’s behavioural changes and extend the child a helping hand. Instead of lecturing the child, try to have a bi-directional conversation to understand the child’s point of view. Also bring to the notice of the teacher the anxiety issues the child is facing. Have exclusive family time to avoid children feeling lonely or helpless. It’s important to be calm and proactive in your conversations with children – check in with them to see how they are doing. Their emotions will change regularly and you need to show them that’s okay.