As we get back to normalcy amid the re-rise of COVID cases, as a parent, you’re not alone if your child’s well-being is on top of mind. Over the last two years, children have undergone massive changes in their daily routines, and this constant shift from a brick-and-mortar learning environment to digital, and back, post COVID can prove unsettling and difficult to grapple with. In many instances, children might even be attending school for the first time this year.
For parents, and mothers in particular, going back to work, the thought of their child not being able to settle into the ‘real’ school can be a significant source of anxiety. However, there is a silver lining here – children are far more resilient and adaptable than we realise feels experts. They can create a happy place for themselves given the right kind of guidance and support.
“Being a mother of a child going to school for the first time, a working parent, and an early years educator, I can relate to your feelings. Read on as I attempt to expand on the areas we can work on, to help our children get ready for the changes ahead of them, and transition back into school,” says Arshleen Kalra, Head of Curriculum and Service Delivery, KLAY Preschools and Daycare outlining strategies to be mindful of.
Introduce An Active Lifestyle: Blame it on social isolation, lack of available infrastructure or increased screen time, active play has been missing amongst most children for the past two years. If your child has been accustomed to a passive lifestyle at home, chances are that s/he may quickly get exhausted or show disinterest in physical play and other activities once the school opens. A good way to mitigate this is to pre-empt it, and gradually start introducing activities into their daily routines. Introduce family playtime – anything that gets everyone up and moving is a good start!
Build Sustainable Routines: Children thrive on routines. A structured day-to-day schedule encourages focus, discipline, and self-regulation amongst children. With the lines between work time and personal time blurring, as working mothers, the tendency to align our children’s routines to our own is not uncommon. Now would be a good time to get the child into an age-appropriate day-night sleep and meal routine. Consistency is key, as children respond well to it. Every element in the schedule should be structured, be it play or learning time. This will help your child develop self-regulation abilities and focus. Structuring their day in alignment with the school timings will also smoothen the transition process.
Encourage Social Interaction: Opportunities for social interaction or physical play with other children of their age group not only nurtures positive relationships and emotional well-being, but also boost the development of critical skills like language, communication, empathy, and self-confidence. Meaningful social and emotional interactions in a child’s life form the basis of their thought process and help shape their worldview. If much of the past year has been spent without social interaction, it is time to reboot their brain and help them look at the outside world with a fresh and positive perspective. Playdates/active playtime with friends in the community under your supervision could be a good start before the child resumes school and is exposed to large groups of unfamiliar peers and adults.
Regulate Passive Entertainment and Screen time: Regulated screen time is not bad, though if your child is habituated to doing everything in front of the screen, the child will probably take a long time to settle in at school post COVID. A sudden shift from screen to off-screen may well prod your child to fuss a little, especially while going to school. It would be a good strategy to allocate a specific, mutually agreed time for screens and follow it consistently. Expect resistance, patience is the key here!
Talk To Your Child: Nothing works like an open and candid chat with your child. Speak to them and help them understand what is in store for them at school and the new rules of engagement. Help them develop a positive outlook, try to get them excited and to look forward to the upcoming change. Create a positive happy picture of the new family (friends, teachers & caregivers) at school, which will encourage them to go to school every day.
Feedback & Feedforward: While schools will put in their best efforts to settle your child, you must stay in constant touch with the school staff to understand your child’s disposition towards an offline learning environment post COVID and overall progress. Be open to feedback and feedforward based on your experiences and learnings with your child. Do not expect miracles! The child will take time to adapt to the new environment and it is the collective responsibility of the school and the parent to make the ride smooth, and enjoyable.
Seek help from a trusted friend, advisor, or expert if you feel like you need to talk to someone. COVID took a lot of toll and your mental well-being is as important as everything else for the well-being of the child. Like the in-flight announcement that reminds us constantly, ‘Put on your oxygen masks before you help your child’.