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Saturday, Dec 10, 2022

Has COVID-19 harmed our children’s mental health?

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. We have to be a bit more tolerant and listen to them, says Dr Harish Shetty, a psychiatrist with Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai

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. (Representational. Image source: pixabay)

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.

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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.

Tolerance plus

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

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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.

When a Principal confronted me with the statement, “Indulgence will lead to tons of bad behaviours and we may lose control,” my reply to him was, “Are we not humane and lenient to kids who have had a long spell of a physical illness?”

Here, high-risk kids who need professional intervention need to be identified early and referred to a psychologist/psychiatrist or to the Dept Of Psychiatry at a Govt Medical College.

The Student as a Teacher

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Every era has its crisis and we need to find new answers. In a class of 45, there are 46 teachers. Many teachers found this crisis as an opportunity to innovate. In a few schools, they gave little chunks of matter to be taught by students. Here, this responsibility was not given to the conventional toppers. Every kid was given an opportunity to teach small parts. An entire chapter was taught by 10 to 15 children. Here the pressure was less and the fun more. In a school, each ward was given the chance to be creative while teaching his/her part of the lesson. And one Principal remarked that they “learnt new techniques of teaching” from the students who naturally calmed down. In my journey across the country, I have observed that schools who practice yoga or meditation have calmer children in their buildings.

Focus on Family Health

Parent leaders in many educational structures took the effort to quarantine the post-covid stress among families through numerous activities. The school and the family is always a joint family. Special efforts by the Parent Teacher Associations can help improve the mental health of families. It is important to note that 1/3 suicides in 2021 (NCRB) was a result of problems within family. There is some evidence to suggest that the number of self-harm behaviours among kids are on the rise post covid. A steep 17 per cent increase of successful self-harm across all age groups between 2019-2021 ( NCRB 2021) is alarming. This is a reflection of the distressing mental health status in the country post covid.

The need of the hour, hence today, is to ramp up the mental health apparatus to save lives and create a conducive environment for students to thrive and learn

First published on: 25-09-2022 at 02:18:33 pm
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