Change in academic structure: Children’s mental health over one year
Every child every year has prayed at some point, that their exams get cancelled or that school gets cancelled. This was the kind of a wish, that would qualify as big enough to ask a “genie” to fulfil. But, this impossible wish, became very real this past year.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed a lot of things in many ways, and for everyone. So many routine, normal activities suddenly came to a halt, and so did schools and colleges. While of course, at first this would have made so many children happy, in the long run this is no vacation, and staying indoors takes its own toll, especially on kids.
From the school format changing, to schools going online, to exams being cancelled or postponed, the sports, dance and other activities taking a completely different form, all of it has led to a lack of structure. At this time, when adults are finding it difficult to adjust and make shifts in how they have been living so far, such a drastic change in routine life can impact children greatly.
Structure and routine provide a sense of stability and security for children, which is very necessary for overall healthy growth and development. Not having this, can sometimes create a sense of unpredictability that can be distressing for the child. Although, the last one year may have given them some time to adjust, we are going to highlight some of the mental health impacts as a result of major changes that happened in the academic or school life.
One of the biggest differences between online schooling- from home and going to the school, is the level of social engagement. Schools have such an important role to play when it comes to developing friendships, meeting classmates, participating in projects, learning social interaction and its dynamics. Even the smaller things like being the monitor or leader in some sports or group activity and mischiefs or physical activity, all of it makes the school experience, for what it is we remember as adults. A lot of these things are missed and don’t have much space on online platforms.
This can inevitably lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness and boredom for kids, where its crucial for them to have playmates their age. Moreover, social interactions are an important way of learning about people, communication, relationships and emotions, something that gets hampered. When, half of an entire day or at least 6 plus hours are spent in school and that stops, it can bring a lot of discomfort overtime. As for almost all children, life revolves around school and family.
While, there is an undeniable waiting before situation can change and schedules go back to normal. The current situation indoors, has also given families opportunity to spend quality time with each other and bond better. Scheduling a definite family-time can be helpful for kids to have complete attention, while still giving them and parents flexibility at other times of the day. Additionally, helping the kids connect with their friends and setting virtual play-dates or letting them plan group activities online, are a few suggestions that have been found useful by many parents.
Try to update and talk to children about what’s going on and how situation is expected to grow in age-friendly words. Be careful as to not introduce fear or anxiety about the situation. Keep the conversation factual and help them feel safe and secure as far as possible. So many families may have been through personally difficult circumstances with the pandemic. But having a sense of hope, togetherness and understanding about what’s happening around them, can make a significant difference in how kids deal with distress, or panic.
Of course, all of us try to do our best to create new schedules and routines, even when it might be difficult sometimes.
Changes in school structure can also make them feel a little lost when it comes to studies and academics, as it’s unusual. For older children, expecting to appear for final year or board diploma exams, this means a lot of uncertainty for future, effecting timeline of admissions and their future plans and feeling stuck. Many children have also expressed feeling like they missed or skipped an entire school year, and that was abnormal, having no remarkable school events or memories of it. All of these factors affect different children in different ways, and can induce to anxiety, sadness, stress. The emotional and mental distress can lead to lack of concentration or attention, frequent outbursts, feelings of hopelessness and reduction in motivation and interest.
Facilitating social support and connection can be worthwhile. It helps them realize, they are not alone and others their age have also been experiencing similar things.
It can be tremendously useful for them to understand their emotions and be able to manage them. When they can identify how they are feeling and why, its easier to take action to feel better or manage intensity of an emotion. Helping children look at the things that are going well for them, and practicing gratitude with them, can help balance their perspective and maintain a healthy outlook in life. Children often learn a lot more by observing adults, than being told what to do. So, when they see their parents or adults around them, take steps to relax or to cope with fear and anxiety, they are more likely to follow through. Having emotional awareness and healthy coping mechanisms, is known to be associated with resilience.
If possible, encourage them to be involved in small but charitable initiatives, even if they are only watering the plants, playing music, helping with simple chores, donating clothes or making cards for others. It helps them feel a sense of purpose and shows how they can play a role in helping, benefitting and being involved in their own way.
It is easy to forget in these times, that the pandemic is not a permanent life crisis, so planning for the future or developing goals, or post-pandemic activities, especially with children, gives us all something to look forward to. Going back to school, again might be a major shift. Discussing how that will be, what will be different, how do they feel about coming back to school and how some of the habits and daily life will transition, is important. Preparing for transitions and being able to predict to some extent, makes children feel more in control and is easier for them to adapt to these changes.
While we wait to see what happens and going back to schools, how schools deal with everything, remains an ongoing point of discussion. Simply, doing what we can right now, might just be truly beneficial. What has been brought to attention though, in this pandemic, is that importance of mental-emotional health of children in schools and academia can no longer be ignored.