It’s been exactly one month and 24 days that the nation’s children have been out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lengthy closure, while necessary, is now being said to have the possibility of affecting children who can become socially withdrawn.
Very early in the closure, social media posts by some parents highlighted the level of boredom their children were experiencing and the confusion for younger ones, unable to understand why they could not go to the park, school or even their neighbour’s house to play with their friends.
Numerous tips have also been shared online by psychologists and care support groups advising parents on how to cope and treat with a child who might develop feelings of anxiety, restlessness, severe boredom, or even depression during the stay at home period.
Social worker Alsoona Boswell-Jackson, who works with school-aged children, adults and families and is also a part-time parenting educator with Families In Action, said with the abrupt closure of schools nationwide, because of COVID-19, while some children welcomed the move with joy and excitement, others felt they had been given a death sentence, especially when the closure was extended for a longer period.
“For many children, school means more than just an institution for formal teaching and learning. School is a place where they can be independent, where they learn things they do not learn from parents and caregivers, it is a place where they receive free breakfast and lunch not only for themselves but also for their siblings.
“It is a place for economic survival, it is a sanctuary away from dysfunctional families, but most importantly, for most children, it is a place for physical and social interaction that they do not receive at home and they look forward to,” Boswell-Jackson explained.
She said school is also a place where many children get hugs from their friends and teachers, words of encouragement, and where they develop a sense of belonging.
“Schools are a microcosm of society and some children love the various facets of it. It is their community where they work together, learn together, play together, pray together, have fun together, and disagree with each other, every single day,” Boswell-Jackson explained.
It can, therefore, be reasoned, she said, that when this lifeline is taken away abruptly, without the opportunity for a child to say formal goodbyes and come to terms with the fact that this is a necessity, it becomes a difficult and daunting reality for a child.
“A lot of parents have reported that they have seen a drastic change in their children when it comes to functioning at home concerning homeschooling because they were doing well at school. This is because homeschooling is a new occurrence for many children and it is one that parents should not expect their children to just fall in sync with and welcome with open arms.
“Children associate home with relaxation time, down-time, the place where they unwind after a full day of formal teaching, and hectic social interaction with their peers. They do not associate and to some extent appreciate a home with formal school so there may be some resistance,” she said.
Boswell- Jackson warned that if not managed skillfully, the withdrawal symptoms experienced by children can progress into depression and compromise their mental health.
She said even with parents coping with their own anxieties and uncertainties about the economy, health, and safety, it is helpful for them to consider their child’s needs for structure, education, exercise, social contact, appropriate leisure time, and calm while providing rational and age-appropriate explanations about the situation.
“Children will be children and their realities will be different from those of adults. Do not have the same expectations of your child that you will expect from an adult. As parents and caregivers, our children look to us for structure, reassurance, guidance, and support.
“We too at times look to our children for reassurance and affirmations that we are doing things right by them even though we feel like we are drowning at times. We too are dealing with social withdrawal and just as we feel hopeless with this, they are feeling hopeless with school withdrawal. But, all in all, we are the parent and it is our responsibility at this time to ensure that we do the best that we can with what we have,” Boswell-Jackson advised.