Schools in the UAE are scheduled to open soon, which means after months spent mostly at home, children will be socialising with their peers once more.
This may be confusing for many, especially if they've spent the past few months under the impression that the outside world is unsafe.
According to Dr Prateeksha Shetty, clinical psychologist at RAK Hospital, the lack of clarity regarding changing rules can lead to anxiety in children. This, in turn, can manifest as irritability, cautiousness, crying bouts, clinginess, avoidance, withdrawal or demanding behaviour, depending on age.
If your children are going back to the classroom in a few days, here are some tips for preparing them so they feel safe and assured.
Have multiple conversations, and be patient
Devika Singh-Mankani, a psychologist at The Hundred Wellness Centre and at Fortes Education Schools in Dubai, the key to a smooth transition is communicating early.
“Speak to children over multiple conversations rather than having one big talk,” she advises. “Children need consistent and clear lines of communication and need to be reminded that they can ask you as many questions as they want, even if it is the same question over and over again.”
She recommends reminding children that there is no such thing as a silly question. She says parents should refrain from using statements like "as I have explained many times" or "I've already told you that" because these might make children stop asking questions or expressing themselves.
Ask them what they think
Thinking of opening up a dialogue? Before you talk with your children, psychologists recommend understanding their impression of the pandemic.
“Ask them to tell you what they think is happening with the virus at the moment and what they think school should look like right now.
"Children may respond by saying, 'It was really bad in March but now things seem to be better.' That points you in the right direction to match their understanding and then further it. Alternatively, they might respond by saying it seems like things are getting worse, in which case you can provide assurance as needed," says Singh-Mankani.
Cover the important points
Singh-Mankani recommends asking children these questions, which she considers “the big five”.
- What is going to be the same?
- What is going to be different?
- What am I looking forward to?
- What do I think I will need help with?
- Who can I talk to if I need help (at home and at school)?
"The strategy for difficult conversations depends on the age of the child, of course, but generally the most important tips involve being honest, yet reassuring and, if appropriate, refer to research findings," she says.
Brush up on hygiene dos and don’ts
Before the return to school, it's important to have conversations about hand hygiene, social distancing and changes that children should expect in the new school year.
"Discuss health and illness, address questions and clarify misconceptions. This information can be passed on via role playing, games or in creative ways, if that works, says Shetty. "Just create a space for discussions and open a room for dialogue."
Wondering what hygiene guidelines you need to educate your children about during the Covid-19 pandemic? Dr Marwa Elhady, specialist paediatrician at Medcare Medical Centre recommends telling them to do the following:
• Wear their mask all day at school.
• Clean their desk and chair with sanitiser.
• Not to share stationery or books with their friends.
• Be social but not to shake hands or hug.
• Wash their hands with soap and water before and after eating snacks.
• Use sanitisers to clean your hands in between lessons.
• Avoid gathering before or after school.
Some of these rules may be more challenging for younger children who are still developing self-regulation and self-control.
"They will need reminders and lots of praise when they have remembered to make healthy hygiene choices," says Singh-Mankani. "As with any new behaviour, it is important to model it consistently. Children do what they see, not what they are told."