Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

The coronavirus pandemic has touched almost all aspects of our lives. Its economic fallouts have left millions of people jobless around the world, putting tremendous psychological pressure on people to retain their livelihoods to sustain families.

However, that pressure naturally affects children who have been confined to the homes as online learning has taken hold due to the prevailing containment measures taken by governments to mitigate the risk of a virus spread in schools. With extended hours behind their computer screens, children lose the ability for social interaction in the absence of their peers and the familiar school routine.

Experts say that for younger students, the drastic change in school routine can be disturbing. For the older ones, online learning, loss of social interaction, and the constant stream of COVID-19 news, and the stress levels of their parents lead to anxiety that may affect their mental health. Parents “have to spend time with children and talk to them honestly about the pandemic in order to listen to their concerns and address them appropriately,” Gulf News quoted Omar Al Hammadi, spokesperson for the UAE Government as saying at a recent briefing. And as schools in the country prepare to welcome back students, instead of the current partial attendance, educators and parents need to pay extra attention to this critical issue.

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For example, schools need to ensure that counsellors are available to students who need support. The Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek) has already made it mandatory for schools to draw up a staff and student well-being plan. As part of the plan, Adek urged schools to hire additional counselling staff to help students and teachers overcome the pandemic-related effects, including confinement and social isolation.

Nevertheless, parents have a more significant responsibility to pay attention to those effects to help the young ones cope with these unusual times. They have to be mindful to signs, especially the change in behaviour — withdrawal from the family, anger for no reason, change in appetite or sleep or energy levels. Children, sitting at their computers for long hours, need to be supervised. The online world is often tricky and dangerous. Parents must be aware of the online interaction of children to ensure their safety.

Let us keep talking to our children. Parents, understandably stressed by the pandemic anxiety, must recognise that their children are worried too. They are the most vulnerable victims of the crisis. Schools and parents need to work together to help children overcome this unusual burden.