The South African Government has announced the phasing in of learners returning to face-to-face teaching. This has caused two camps to rise: those for children returning and those against children returning to school. I am not going to choose sides, rather focus on how to support children as they go back to school.
Firstly, we need to be aware that many individuals may struggle with anxiety and fear on returning to school. We also need to realize that while children may not show signs of difficulties initially, these may arise as they are faced with new processes on entering schools and interacting with peers and teachers through physical distancing – this is going to be particularly difficult for younger children. As children get used to their new realities during Covid-19, as well as the uncertainty of it’s duration, the prolonged effect may well give rise to an increase in mental illness.
So how do we support all children as we ourselves learn to navigate the waters of our new (hopefully temporary) reality (while managing our own anxieties and fears)? How do we support children who may have, or who may be at risk of mental illness?
- Clinically vulnerable children should not return to school but should be supported through online learning.
- Children who live in homes with vulnerable individuals should only attend school if strict hygiene and physical distancing is practiced. The child needs to be old enough to be able to understand these practices and be able to carry them out.
- Age-appropriate education around Covid-19 is important. This should be implemented in the home as well as the school environment.
- Children should be taught good hand hygiene practices at home before returning to school.
- Educate children about physical distancing and physical contact and the spread of Covid-19.
- Teach children to wear masks independently where a child is able to put on or remove a mask without assistance. For young children, a face mask may be considered – the use of these should also be practiced prior to going back to school.
- Talk to children about their thoughts and feelings around returning to school. Normalize their feelings and offer support.
- Explain the changes they can expect on returning to school (most schools are providing parents with the procedures that will be implemented).
- Keep having conversations with children about their experiences and feelings as the days and weeks after returning to school progress.
- Good communication with your child’s teacher is key.