Has COVID-19 harmed our children’s mental health?
Are school kids getting louder and noisier? “They no longer respect us, ignore discipline and use a lot of slang language,” a teacher shared with me recently. “They run out of classrooms, push each other and at times are actually violent, said another. “They have poor concentration, have low attention spans and low grades,” a principal told me.
Well, kids haven’t suddenly turned boisterous after the pandemic. It so happened that 12-year-olds suddenly became teenagers at 14 without processing this change in an interactive milieu with peers and adults. And without the shared feeling and nobody to tell them they are adulting and that changes are common, each has been feeling scared on their own. I have been visiting schools very frequently for mental health projects for two-and-a-half decades and have noticed similar behavioural aberrations in the post-pandemic era . This needs a different response system from adults, namely teachers and their families.
Transact Life and Learnings:
Let the classroom be an interactive space where children are allowed to share feelings and experiences of life. Their concerns, fears, joys and disappointments need validation and a vent.
Teachers and parents, who are also affected by this stress, usually put extra emphasis on syllabus, assignments and tests as a coping mechanism for themselves. A teacher in a school shared how she called a few “disturbed” students to the teachers’ room and to her utter surprise found how they simply “talked and talked and talked.” She listened to their joys, fears and concerns and encouraged them to share their feelings with her. As a consequence, their behaviour improved. Deep listening may look simple but is very effective.
Regular periodic activities to enhance the wellness of teachers will equip them to be perceptive guides and listeners of their children. Maybe a Q and A class can be made part of the syllabus. This will calm the students and accelerate learning.
Families need to accept that some children can be boisterous while others may become excessively quiet and withdrawn under changed circumstances. Adults need to be more tolerant of children’s difficult behaviour as long as it is not extremely disruptive.
Enforcement of authoritative discipline may not work. There is nothing like discipline and indiscipline. It is simply appropriate and inappropriate behaviours whose definitions may be more malleable today
A little more flexibility in accepting mildly difficult behaviour will help in remediating the present situation. Tolerance plus is the key. Critics point to the fact that this may lead to an unruly situation in schools. This is not true as the indulgence is temporary till the homeostasis is achieved.