Monday | 25 May | 2020
By Melodie Veldhuizen
Children, parents and teachers are on tenterhooks while waiting for the green light from the government to reopen schools. Everyone has been at home now for a long while after the holiday which in actual fact was not really that. It will be a great adaptation for everyone. While we wait, make use of the time to prepare your children for the return to school.
Theresa van den Berg, educational psychologist in Pretoria, gives parents the following advice.
- What emotions/behaviour/fears can you expect in younger children when they have to return to school?
Anxiety (separation anxiety) to, after such a long time together, once again be away from their parents.
Fear: They are afraid of the virus or ‘sickness’, as children call it, and that they will catch it and fall ill. They are also scared that they themselves or their parents will fall ill or die when they aren’t together.
Uncertainty: They don’t know what to expect and are unsure if academically they will be able to maintain the pace. They wonder why they may go to school, but no extra-mural activities may take place, and why they may not go to the shops with their parents.
Relief: For children in poor, weaker economic areas it might be a relief to be able to go to school, where feeding programmes can continue and at last they can once again become part of an academic system (especially children with no access to technology and other resources to receive home-schooling).
Excitement, joy and expectation to see everyone again, to communicate and play together. Children miss their friends and social interaction with others.
Disappointment when they are expected to maintain social distancing and to make other adjustments.
Not keen on going back. It’s fun at home, where they also feel safe.
Sadness. Younger children are emotionally tuned in to the world around them. A younger child’s experience of his/her world is determined by the emotions that he/she experiences at a given time. Constant sadness or anxiety makes it difficult for children to concentrate and to learn. These new situations in which children find themselves and strange demands made on them, could easily mean that a child experiences fear, sadness and anxiety.
- How can I prepare my child for the changed situation and school environment?
Communicate facts and plans that are already in place. Children must be able to have control, also in times of change. Now it no longer is just about why we have to respect safe social distances between each other and why there are so many new rules, but about how we are going to tackle the new change. By giving children basic factual information with ‘how’, we also provide control over how they can think and act. Sensory-sensitive children might struggle more to keep on masks the whole day or not being allowed to touch certain surfaces. Let them get used to it now, just as during this time they gave had to get used to wash their hands regularly.
Teach your child to put him/herself in someone else’s shoes. In many aspects not all children are on the same level when they go back to school. At home not everyone had the same opportunities. Not everyone was privileged to could afford computers and sufficient data. Not all parents are good teachers. When children can imagine themselves in the situation of others, they will also be able to manage their own frustrations better.
Make your child resilient and aware of challenges. Children still go to school with the same problems as before. Poverty and violence will still be part of many communities and in many cases there will be more loss of life due to Covid-19. In many families parents have lost their jobs and children come to school in a time of greater family challenges. Prepare your child for this and make him/her aware of that for which he/she can be grateful.
- What signs of adaptation problems should I look out for?
Anxiety, especially separation anxiety. Children don’t want to leave their parents to go to school. They will among others chew their nails, have nightmares, or wet their bed.
Anger as defence and protection mechanism. This anger can be directed impulsively at people, animal and objects, or even surface as suppressed reaction or even passive aggression. This can cause children to suddenly become reserved and aloof, or adopt a totally absent or indifferent attitude.
Sleeping patterns are disrupted – they sleep more, or perhaps even less.
Fears: Children develop new or specific fears that they or their friends or teachers will contract the virus (sickness).
Irrational thinking patterns that in their turn have a negative effect on learning and performance.
Academic deterioration because they struggle to keep up the pace, especially because suddenly, after a long period of personal attention, they now have to once again function within a larger group, or precisely because after a lack of attention and help at home, they have fallen behind.
Social withdrawal: They prefer being alone, struggle to communicate and play with friends, among others because they are afraid of being infected.
Weakened concentration: Uncertainty and anxiety can contribute to concentration problems.
- How do I help my child who is having difficulty adapting?
Physical contact: Now, more than ever, it is important that you hold and hug your children physically. We all need physical closeness and presently children cannot get it from other sources, such as from their friends.
Maintain fixed patterns and rituals at home. Sport, exercise and social interaction are necessary as outlets for anxiety and other emotions. On going back to school many of these will change. Social contact will be less and sport and other social activities are suspended for the time being. This is why it will be important that households continue with patterns and rituals also created during the lockdown, such as playing and exercising together and joining in fun family activities.
Create hope through awareness: Parents and teachers can also empower children with hope. Hope to know people are working together to try and end the pandemic; scientists are doing research regarding a vaccine; the government is putting rules in place to combat spreading and protect us. But also give hope that although nothing will ever be the same again, all of us will get through this and that the world will again/still be a lovely place.
Create a safe and stable environment: Parents and teachers have an enormous task to as far as possible instil stability, serenity and trust in children. Children in families who are struggling with unemployment, accommodation, family brokenness and alcohol abuse may find it more difficult to return to school confidently. Difficult circumstances could have already influenced home-schooling and learning and this can have a negative effect on performance and going back to school. Communication and cooperation between parents and teachers will now be more important than ever before.
Watch your child’s emotions and behaviour (as discussed under point 4). If necessary, get professional help.
Source: Theresa van den Berg (Educational psychologist)
Email address: email@example.com
Telephone number: 082 374 6876
* All information was correct at the time of publication.