1. How did the pandemic affect the mental and emotional health of children?
We faced a complete shutdown from the outside world for almost two years, bringing a forceful end to children’s social life. The sudden lockdown limited skills such as sharing and empathy developed from social interaction. Additionally, academic learning ceased, leading them to turn to gadgets for entertainment.
Despite people’s expectations, the lockdown did not increase family interaction. Students developed an addiction to electronic gadgets so much so that there was only limited or say, no interaction with their family members. An increase in screen time led to a lack of attention, lack of concentration, and development of social anxiety which causes negative impacts on their mental health.
2. After schools reopened, students had a rough start. ‘Back to normal’ was a totally strange world to some of them. What steps should parents take so that the child can feel comfortable and avoid social anxiety?
Children from different age groups should be dealt with differently. For fresh starters, the change is harder than we can imagine since they have no exposure to nurseries or Anganwadi experiences. They have no idea about what happens in a school, how to behave in front of so many people, what and what not to do because they didn’t go through a trial and error method of learning. Here, what parents can do is spend quality time with them, and prepare them for school maybe through role play. It may be a teacher-student relationship or a student-student one so that they learn about a classroom atmosphere. Give them what they missed to make them prepared.
Children above primary age may have problems restarting their school life. Parents should limit their child’s gadget time and make sure they know what they watch. They should keep a reward system for good behavior. Parents should interact with teachers not only about their child’s academic performance but also about their emotional health, the way they behave in schools, whether they act inhibited, etc. Things would have a negative impact if there is no parent-teacher interaction. Parents should never feel ashamed in taking their child to a mental health professional if they feel they cannot handle this.
3. Doctors say early intervention is important when it comes to behavioral disorders or learning disabilities. What symptoms should we exactly look for?
Every problem or disability would not have the same symptoms. But the common thing that we should look for is whether the child is achieving every milestone that is expected of them at that age. Milestones include things such as crawling, walking, speech, etc. If you find these delayed, parents should make sure they consult a pediatrician or a developmental pediatrician, a speech therapist and a psychologist if suggested. Before a child gets into a school, take note of whether the child possesses pre-requisite skills such as active listening or interest in a new activity.
What happens with the majority of the parents is they would notice these changes in their babies but they get engulfed in the advice from the people they are surrounded with. Society’s advice does not do good for your child. Consult a professional if you come across any milestone delays in your child.
4. Teachers are equally responsible for identifying and dealing with children who have learning disabilities. But in reality, teachers bully them. How do you respond to that?
One in every five students has a learning disability according to the current status. But sadly, teachers are still not aware of the learning disability symptoms. Students dealing with a learning disability will have an average IQ and mostly, teachers have this fallacy that their slow learning is nothing but laziness. Some teachers do not consider the child’s mental health.
Government and education boards such as CBSE give concessions to students having disabilities but at the same time should give proper awareness to teachers about the symptoms of such disabilities too. Teachers usually fail to understand that the concession given by governments is the child’s right. Attitudinal barriers from teachers should be properly addressed by introducing a manual that clearly states the actions that they must face for stereotyping children with disabilities. Only if students get a safe, comfortable space for learning, do they get to flourish.
5. Mental health is finally coming to the forefront. But differently abled children’s mental health is still sidelined. What are the measures that should be taken to avoid this attitude?
(i) Our society must be educated that differently abled children should be equally accepted. Usually what happens is people tend to approach them with sympathy but this is not what they need. Once we accept them as they are, they feel relaxed and start to interact with us.
(ii) There are a lot of inexperienced therapists or professionals who will not be qualified to deal with differently-abled children. Make sure the professionals you visit have proper educational backgrounds and work experience in this required field.
(iii) When a differently abled child is born, their family atmosphere changes completely. Parents of these children must be empowered to provide them with a comfortable environment. They must be enrolled in parental fostering groups so that they know they are not alone. Encouraging and training the parents will in turn help the children to attain comfortable mental health.
(iv) Recognize and encourage their talents. Each child will have their hidden talents and the people around them must be as supportive as the parents so that they could feel included in this society.