Guest Column

Approaching children in a way that encourages them to open up

Approaching children in a way that encourages them to open up

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Allan Andersen

As students have begun to return to school following the closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the approach to schooling is not only focused on academics, but also on assisting students with transitioning back to school while keeping their mental health in check.

According to recent research, the prevalence of anxiety and sadness in children increased during the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the lives of children, who are acutely aware of the changes. As a result, children became introverted, refusing to open up to anyone to express their feelings.

Hence it is critical that schools have well-defined strategies to ensure the social and emotional health of their students. This is especially relevant during this transition phase, wherein children are shifting from online learning to physical school.

Balance between academic rigor and emotional needs

Educational institutions need to accept the fact that these past 18 months have not been easy for any learner, and it has impacted their academic progress. The reality is that in this current scenario, every child will have an academic gap. In senior grades, they are transitioning from online to offline learning.

Although they are glad to return to school, we have to be prepared for challenges. The stress of academics cannot be increased at an accelerated pace, to make up for the academic gap.

We have to assess, where the child is right now and then set the pace for academic progress in a positive and realistic manner. This is applicable, even for children from the primary department, who have undergone 18 months of schooling online and are still, continuing with the same. These children are not only in front of the screen from 8:30 to 3:30; but also have additional homework after school hours. Now after 18 months, the novelty of online school will wear off and they will find it difficult to motivate themselves to fulfil their academic tasks.

For these children, we not only, need to have a blended approach of online & offline activities but also the larger vision, that we aspire to create happy, confident and emotionally happy children. The less stressed the children are, the better will be their academic progress. Hence fine-tuning the pace of academic progress, to a level that does not stress the children out is the need of the hour.

“Mentoring” as a strategy

Schools must create a safe environment for students to express their feelings and experiences about situations, which is essential for developing healthy emotional well-being and individual growth. Children coming back after a long hiatus will face challenges and hence, Mentoring Programs can ensure a smooth transition. A mentor is a grown-up friend for the child — a bond between teachers & students that goes beyond academics. This relationship is a socio-emotional gateway for children. Children can be themselves, express themselves emotionally or any other issue that they are going through. Here the key point to understand is that the role of the teacher should not be misinterpreted. The teacher is an individual in a position of authority who guides the child in every aspect of their learning. Hence, as much as possible, teachers, who assume the roles of mentors to students should be ones who are not in a teacher-student relationship with them.

Holistic and socio-emotional development

Schools must develop programmes that are entirely focused on the student’s well-being and social development, which is critical during a global pandemic. Programmes that go beyond academics and educational transactions focus on forming bonds between students and teachers for the sole purpose of communication. Students spend a majority of their time focused on educational activities, exams, and assignments, leaving little time for conversations that are critical to their mental well-being and growth. Furthermore, schools must focus on a student's socio-emotional development because it aids in their educational development. Emotions can help or hinder children's academic engagement, dedication, and school achievement because social and emotional processes influence how and what we learn. Teachers are the primary emotional leaders of their students, and their ability to detect, comprehend, and regulate their own emotions is the foundation for fostering emotional balance in their groups.

Schools, teachers, and parents must partner to ensure a child's holistic development. Holistic education encourages curiosity while also improving communication and social skills. Students are encouraged to make connections in a subject by using their creative abilities holistically, thereby enhancing their psychological, social, and emotional development.

In conclusion, I would like to point out that the transition from home and online instructions to school/ classroom learning can be overwhelming for them; it can feel like a new experience for them to adjust to. Developing a support system for the child is crucial at this stage. As schools reopen across the country, the next few weeks will be very critical for parents and teachers to observe their children and notice changes in their behaviour. The above approaches outlined can make the transition feel less jarring.

The writer is Director, Chaman Bhartiya School, Bengaluru

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