Following one of the world’s most prolonged periods of pandemic-led school closures, Kenya’s families are now making the transition back into face-to-face learning for our children. With more than nine months away from the education system, peers and classrooms they once knew – new procedures, fears and a lingering sense of uncertainty – it is understandable that anxiety levels will be high for teachers, pupils and parents.
Lifecare offers expert advice on how to arm your child with the confidence they need to resume their education, while staying safe and feeling secure.
Children look to adults for a sense of calm, so it is important that parents and caregivers contain any worries they have about resuming school in person. “To me, the most important thought about going back to school is that parents lead the charge. If you lead with your own anxiety, you’re only going to fuel anxiety,” says Dr Rachel Busman, director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute. “So you want to say what you know, answer questions and act calm – even when you are not.”
There are lots of questions parents can’t answer when it comes to coronavirus, but it is reassuring for your child if you share the information you do have, and work out possible solutions to their worries together.
By talking openly about the latest developments of the virus, and how your family and the team at school are all taking steps to protect themselves from it, children build trust that there is a plan in place. They should also be actively involved in stopping the spread, and be aware of the importance of regular hand washing, social distancing and the wearing of masks. “Make hygiene fun!” advises Dr. Sravani Behara, Medical Director and Specialist Psychiatrist at Lifecare partner, LifeWorks Counselling & Mental Health. “Handwashing and sanitising can be easily turned into a game for younger children, while older children should know why this is keeping them safe.”
If a child tells you they are worried about going back to school and/or has developed separation anxiety at the thought of being apart from their parents or caregivers after an extended period spent together, their feelings should never be dismissed. Instead, they should be acknowledged and moved into positive solutions or reassurance.
“Kids are just really used to being home with their parents now,” explains Dr. Jennifer Louie, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. “If your child is telling you that they’re worried, you want to validate that and let them have some space to express that. But you don’t want to feed it too much. If they say they miss you, that’s okay. You can say: ‘I miss you too, and I’m so proud of you for going to school.’”
Although it has been deemed safe for pupils to return to school for now, it is also important that we equip children with the understanding that this may change, and remove any fear that reverting to distance learning indicates that they may be unsafe.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) advises parents to regularly discuss with children that schools may need to close again, which will help them to be prepared for the period of adjustment ahead. It’s also important to continue to remind them that learning can happen anywhere – at school and at home.
Lifecare can help to arrange further support and information on anxiety related issues in both adults and children.
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