Back to school in times of COVID-19

Back to school in times of COVID-19

How do children live going back to school in this moment of uncertainty?

After the vacation period, the children have disconnected from the usual context, abandoning their daily and academic obligations. This return to routine requires a process of adaptation on the part of the child , who may show sleep disturbances, have nightmares, be discouraged, listless or irritable (showing special sensitivity and impatience, in part due to their sleep disturbances).

Normally, this process lasts between one and two weeks , at which point the child ends up adapting to the new circumstances (eg loss of free time or less family contact) and redirecting his energy.

To all this, we must add that children have a completely different memory of school, so they probably have false expectations about what their return to school will be like. They will also have to adapt to completely different rules and routines that will challenge them (eg not sharing toys with other children or keeping a safe distance).

In addition, they will need to overcome their possible fear of contagion , justified by the absence of contact for months, with the exception of their parents, with whom they have probably spent much more time than usual, so the separation may pose another added difficulty. In this sense, it is important to clarify that:

“Children have a great capacity for adaptation, so that, although routine provides them with great security, they are capable of changing it thanks to their enormous brain plasticity.”    

Possible psychological consequences of quarantine in children at an educational level.

It is important to bear in mind that the pandemic has caused many children to stop going to daycare or school, which may have resulted in a reduction in the child’s physical, cognitive and social stimulation.

An example of this would be the possible socialization problems , more specifically in the relationship with equals, because they have not been able to have a real socialization.

(1) – Lack of socialization could cause problems in children.

In this sense, it is necessary to highlight the exponential increase in the use of new technologies not only as a school support tool, but also as a means of entertainment, which has been able to cause the abuse of video games in some children to the point of having been affected their academic performance, regardless of the possible problems of attention, concentration and memorization caused by the change in academic methodology (lack of knowledge that will drag the next school year).

Can children stop going to school for fear of contagion?

The lack of information coupled with the fact that the little that there is is contradictory due to the lack of common protocols has ended up generating distrust in practically all parents, who now doubt whether to send their children to school for fear that they will become infected and, therefore, extension, his family. Perhaps that is why the State Attorney General’s Office has recalled that:

“When a student unjustifiably absent more than 20% of the school period, schools have the obligation to inform the competent authorities.”

Compulsory education in Spain.

This mission of the teachers is due to the fact that compulsory education in Spain is from six to sixteen years of age, so voluntary absence could lead from the loss of custody to prison sentences for parents or guardians who have infringed this right of assistance with respect to parental authority.

In the case of separated couples , in addition, the decision not to send the child to school must be consensual to avoid penalties for lack of agreement.

However, the current health crisis has put these types of measures in check, since physical health can prevail over school education, so that, when making the decision, the judge must weigh whether the educational center could guarantee the safety of non-contagion in classrooms , which is practically impossible today. However, it is important to remember that:

“Isolation prevents the correct development of children, as they improve their physical, cognitive and social skills through socialization . 

In any case, it is convenient to bear in mind that fear and uncertainty are most likely going to last throughout the course, so you should try to make the current abnormal situation normal and put limits on negative ideas, learning how to living in fear, which can help maintain and improve current prevention measures.

(2) – Back to school: We must try to make the abnormal situation normal

Tips to facilitate the return to school.

Tips to facilitate the return to school.

Here are some tips to make going back to school easier for the family:

Motivate you to return to class.

Involving the child by allowing him to choose certain school supplies can serve to awaken his illusion regarding the return to the school routine. It is also important to ask him what he likes most and least about school, without contributing negative comments about the return to the routine, helping him to live it as a mainly positive experience.

In this sense, it is important to explain that it is normal that at first you do not feel like going, because learning is always a challenge and you have to make an effort to face it.Teach you coping strategies.

As was commented in the entry about the influence of educational style on the psychological development of children , it is important not to overprotect them, but to normalize the challenges and demands that the new course entails.

It is convenient to remind them that they have a “toolbox” such as:

  • Ask for help from other people who care about him, such as his teacher or his own parent.
  • Use calming thoughts (eg keep in mind that most problems can be solved because you have the capacity to do so).
  • Remember what you did in similar situations or what someone else would do in your place.

Establish a routine.

It is advisable to progressively modify sleep schedules with, p. Eg, a week in advance, so that the child can regulate his schedule before starting the course. It can also be helpful to find some times to leave the child separated from his parents or siblings, so that the separation is not so hard later.

It should be noted that in the routine it is important to include a moment of well-deserved rest such as watching cartoons at snack time or going to the park.

Allow you to continue to have free time.

Long working hours or the desire for the child to assimilate as much knowledge as possible means that:

“Some parents end up involving their children in numerous extracurricular activities that, at times, do not even arouse their child’s interest and that, in addition, can generate stress and even anxiety .”

In this sense, it is important to ask the child what he thinks about it and see if he has enough time to play, since the game serves to develop his creativity and helps him to manage his emotions.

(3) – Back to school: We must respect children’s play time.

Guidelines for child problems derived from the coronavirus.

Here are some specific steps to address the problems that may arise in children from the COVID-19 pandemic:

Regarding the measures to prevent contagion.

For the child to understand and comply with prevention measures, it is essential to be open to communication, without restrictions. In any case, the most essential thing is to inform them about the risks of contagion and reiterate the need to be prudent, giving them clear and concrete guidelines so that they do not skip hygiene measures due to unconsciousness.

Regarding the fear of contagion.

It is essential to resolve children’s concerns honestly, showing peace of mind when faced with their doubts and providing them with security, explaining that if they comply with security measures, nothing has to happen to them.

In this sense, it is convenient to ask them about how they feel and allow them to express their feelings (both positive and negative) without invalidating or belittling them, respecting their opinion and leaving them their own space in which to calm their emotions.

It should be noted that in the event that the child has recurrent thoughts about being in danger or has exaggerated reactions (eg compulsive washing), it would be advisable to consult a psychologist to teach him to manage his fear in a more appropriate way .

Regarding socialization .

Children learn to regulate their own emotions by observing how their parents behave towards them. For this reason, it is important that parents teach children to relate to this new normal, encouraging them to lose their excessive fear and encouraging their responsibility and commitment to the health of others.

To do this, games can be proposed that do comply with security measures such as hide and seek, play guessing at movies, fight with toy swords, etc.

On the other hand, having been interacting through the screens may have had a negative impact on the child’s interaction skills, opting for overly literal communication, which should be improved.

Regarding the abusive use of technology.

In this case, the abusive use of technology is due to poor free time management and, although in the short term it helps to disconnect, it can cause unwanted effects:

“In the medium and long term, experts warn that it increases anxiety in children, altering their nervous system and can lead to addiction .”

To avoid this, in addition to controlling the minor’s access to different devices, it is advisable to offer alternative leisure activities (eg literature or go for a walk) and use creativity (eg playing games typical of a camp or to simulate what a day would be like without certain technology).

(4) – It is advisable to encourage alternative activities with children.

In this way, parents must be alert, without pathologizing (for example, a preventive fear is not the same as a paralyzing one), but being aware of the needs and emotional changes that their children have, then, in case of not intervening, they may develop psychological problems that persist in later stages.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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