Adapting to the new normal
Sometimes life throws us in paradoxical situations! And this is certainly the first of its kind for many generations. For many people who toil day in and out and often yearn hopelessly to find time to stay at home, to just while away their time and do nothing, perhaps not go to work for some time, or even enjoy a sabbatical, to them this came as a surprise however not so pleasant. March is that time of the year when the academic year gradually comes to an end marking the beginning of the new academic year which ushers new hopes, new aspirations, new plans and new dreams. Children eagerly look forward to their much-deserved summer vacation as plans to make the most of the holidays that are already in place.
However, this summer turned out to be an extremely unusual one. Even as people were trying to understand and grapple with this new health emergency which was soon declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, they found themselves in a situation of complete house arrest when the lockdown was announced. Everything came to a grinding halt as this new strain of virus appeared to affect all and sundry and every strata of society. Since then, life has undergone a drastic change for everyone. As adults, we are perhaps more resilient and most of us have the ability to adapt ourselves to newer challenges and changing circumstances but for the children, the lockdown, closure of physical schools, cancelled holidays, no outdoor or extremely restricted playtime, no physical socializing has been extremely challenging. Interestingly, here it is important to point out that children can also be competent and resilient from an early age provided they have been given the encouragement and confidence to do so through their developmental years.
According to Ann Masten (Professor at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota known for her research on the development of advancing theory on the positive outcomes of children and families facing adversity) in the context of Covid-19 pandemic,
“I do think that people come together in this situation, and they connect in new ways and discover new strengths that they have. I think that we mobilize in the context of this emergency and adversity. We don’t just experience stress. We discover that we have reserves, we discover the strengths we have, we connect with people. I think you often see, along with a surge of danger, human capabilities mobilized at many different levels. We’re still responding now, but you can see it all around at government levels and local levels, people beginning to respond by trying to mobilize and coordinate what they do.”
It goes without saying that children have also been experiencing their own kind of stress and uncertainty during the pandemic. Children by nature are active, curious, adventurous, boisterous and experimental. They undergo their physical, intellectual, emotional and social development as they grow up and a whole host of factors within the family as well as their immediate surroundings, the most significant being school have an immense bearing on the different facets of their all-round growth. Following the spread of COVID-19, hundreds of schools closed down world-wide and internet usage went up by almost 50% in some parts of the world. The pandemic also saw the introduction of remote learning with the help of technology in virtual platforms as a substitute for the real classroom and school. With this paradigm shift in the pattern of learning, understandably, the internet, online games and social media too started becoming the bridge for children to remain connected with their folks and friends and also keep themselves entertained. In the meantime, parents and caregivers have this new task of not only navigating their children’s shift to online learning and recreation while balancing work and uncertainties which may be an offshoot of the pandemic. As human beings, all of us crave social connections and this is one dimension of our lives which has been severely affected due to the pandemic. For children and adolescents too, one of the biggest motivating factors of going to school every day is to be able to spend time with their peer group. This need is not only emotionally fulfilling for them but plays a critical role in the formation of their identity particularly in the adolescent years.
Since both media and social media keeps us adequately informed most of the time sometimes with authentic news but there are times when inaccurate and fake news does the rounds, it is always a good idea to keep discussing what is happening around with the children as they can comprehend according to their age. Since school reopened in June, I have been observing kids in their virtual classrooms and interacting with them though the various group counselling sessions planned for them, it did come to my notice that after the initial hiccups children did settle down comfortably into this online mode of learning. Yes, some new challenges are definitely there since their regular schedule has undergone a massive transformation.
- One of the most significant determining factors of life before and after COVID is the presence of schedule or routine in our lives, particularly with reference to children. While the morning rush of catching the school bus is no longer there, classes starting an hour later and as school hours have got further compressed, it may not be unusual that a lot of kids have become lackadaisical. Through my interaction with the students too, this appeared to be the case as many of them do not follow any schedule. A schedule is very important for children of all ages especially in these circumstances to not only remain attuned with their academics but also to remain active. Since a certain degree of resistance can be expected, parents can formulate a schedule in unison with the kids.
- Through my interaction with the high school students, I also learnt that in many students the circadian rhythm (an internal clock that the body follows) is severely affected because they do not feel tired unlike the days prior to the lockdown. Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle. They respond primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment. Sleeping at night and being awake during the day is an example of light related circadian rhythm. It is perfectly understandable that adolescents are not only missing the physical presence of their peer group but there is a lot of uncertainty looming over their future with respect to their aspirations and career. As far as possible, limiting the exposure of light at night beyond a certain point of time is recommended by doctors to get a good night’s sleep. At the same time, being mindful and incorporating a simple change of habit by using the table and chair and not the bed for browsing the internet, chatting or playing video games can improve the sleep pattern.
- One of the biggest challenges during this time is balancing kids screen time because unexpectedly and unwantedly the entire focus has now shifted on the virtual forum. Through the interactive sessions, I have been talking to the students about maximizing their active screen time and minimizing their passive screen time as far as possible. The whole idea is to balance both and create a positive screen time for the children with respect to their age. Many parents have been extremely vigilant about this as it was reflected during the discussions with the students and for the rest a conversation with the child on some agreeable terms is the best way forward. For the older children, awareness of cyber-bullying at all points of time is also necessary as they are active on the various social media interfaces.
- By now, since most children are aware and understand at various levels the reasons for staying at home, instead of focusing on the negatives and challenges of these times, it would be helpful to put all our negative thoughts into perspective and engage the children in different creative pursuits, hobbies and also help them to learn some new skill. During my interaction with the students, I learnt that many of them did actually learn baking, cooking, music, instrument, art during the lockdown.
- It has also been heartening to learn that children have also risen to the occasion and enhanced their basic life skills starting from the lockdown as it was the need of the hour. With a little encouragement and motivation children can be made to do simple tasks and gradually the activity can be scaled up according to their age. This is yet another determining factor which helps us to understand that children can be resilient in the face of adversity.
- A lot of children feel that their day is incomplete without a good fill of outdoor play and it goes without say this should be the case with all children. The physical activity is not only essential for their overall growth, but it also rejuvenates them, with many kids it is an excellent outlet to channelize their aggression and restlessness while for some to improve their focus. For these children in particular, parents can encourage them to continue with some of these activities in the balcony or terrace of their houses, perhaps in an empty room, and if the child lives in an apartment, going for a walk, jog or cycling is necessary. The most important underlying factor here is, continuity of physical playtime is crucial even with the existing limitations.
- This can also be an excellent time and opportunity for children to be COVID heroes. If we look around, a lot of people around us are in deep duress unlike many of us and reaching out to such people by developing social connections beyond social media will enable them to not only grow from within but feel good about themselves.
- At any point of time, when children find it difficult to come into terms with the challenges and new way of life, whereby some cracks show up, it is a good idea to talk to them or put them across to any trusted adult with whom they can let their hair down without any inhibition.
“It doesn’t matter what you have but what you are” is my innate belief in life. Having completed my post-graduation in human development and post graduate diploma in psychological counselling, I worked extensively in the development sector in the fields on gender, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS and mental health. This is when I felt a deep need to connect with people on an emotional level and hence, I made a deeper foray into the world of counselling. Books, music, travelling and friends are my elixir! At CHIREC, working with the adolescent age group has been an extremely dynamic and exhilarating experience as there are new challenges each day!