Going back to school always brings mixed emotions in the children. They can be excited, but can also be anxious. This year is very different than the previous ones due to the pandemic we are currently living in.
Since the time this pandemic has started, there have been many baffling questions even for scientists. We do not exactly know why some people do not even show any symptoms, while others get affected in a life-threatening way. We also do not completely understand why children are less affected than adults.
Data from various countries, including the US, suggest only 8-9% of the Covid-19 positive cases are made up of children. Most of these cases are either asymptomatic or mild to moderate in nature. Children who are prone to have severe infection are those with pre-existing health conditions, such as congenital heart conditions, immunodeficiency, obesity and Type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Moreover, children are not usually the ones who bring the infection into their homes. In fact, most of them catch it from other family members. Studies have also shown that they are not the greater transmitters of the infection to others. For example, a study from France showed that children with Covid-19 failed to transmit it to any other person despite their exposure to hundreds of children in different schools and a ski resort. Such statistics are certainly reassuring.
In the world of psychology, it is a well-known fact that parental anxiety disorders can increase the risk of similar disorders in their children. Studies have shown that parental anxiety may induce a range of negative outcomes in their children.
Since the pandemic has started, paediatricians have seen a surge in symptoms like headaches, sleep problems, tics and behavioural difficulties. The environmental change is claimed to be the culprit behind these symptoms in them. It was also interesting to see that the parents of these children were slightly more anxious about the pandemic.
Social media like WhatsApp and Facebook have been the primary source of information for most of us as it is at the tip of the fingers. Needless to say, there have many wrong facts or misinformation circulating as well causing fear amongst the users. Such information automatically gets circulated more through these channels without verifying the facts. So non-scientific information like herbal medicines or food items to treat or prevent coronavirus were unnecessarily causing confusion amongst parents.
Online learning has limitations and children tend to learn better whilst in school. The school environment is also beneficial for building social and emotional skills and for physical exercise. This is the place where they will see and meet their friends again, albeit with some restrictions.
This prolonged period of lockdown and no major exposure to the outer world has clearly affected their mental wellbeing. Schools have been working to modify the infrastructure while being compliant with the regulations so that education can be provided in a safer way.
Although the facilities may not look or feel the same as before, many children are still eager to return to school. The onus is on the parents, too. Both the school and parents have to work as a team and should be on the same page. Parents should also comply with the instructions given by the school. It is important to stay connected with the school through various resources.
As we know, this pandemic is not going to end soon. We have adopted and found out ways for ourselves, including changes in the workplaces. Children deserve the same. They follow the adults, and we can be their role model. So being optimistic will certainly help.
Children are resilient and often adjust to the new situation better than adults. If they have any queries, talking through such queries and explaining the correct facts in an age-appropriate way will certainly help.
Parents can encourage children to verbalize their thoughts and be a good listener. Any new sign of anxiety, including physical symptoms like headaches and abdominal pain, should be identified early, so that appropriate professional help can be sought.
Parental anxiety can also reflect in the children and being patient and sensible as well as not showing any anxiety, especially in front of the children will help encourage a sense of positivity in them. We should continue to reiterate the importance of social distancing, hand hygiene and wearing masks whilst in public places, including school. Such positive behaviour by the children must be encouraged by a lot of praise so that it is reinforced.
Once schools start, it is important to maintain a structured routine, which is also an important part of good sleep hygiene. A combination of a balanced diet, good quality sleep and exercise can help to build up a good immune system in children.
Dr Vivek Mundada
Consultant Paediatric Neurologist, Medcare Women & Children Hospital
Dubai Health Authority dedicated, 24/7, back to school Covid-19 helpline Tel 800 588