Dubai: We are done with the first two weeks of remote learning across schools in the UAE, and children are now waking up to the new reality of being on their own without peers and outside of their familiar school routines.
Also with restaurants and cafes closed, all events cancelled, no films running in theatres, malls shut, leaving home is not allowed unless it’s essential for food and groceries and medical necessities.
While for younger kids, the change in routine can be disturbing, for older children the constant news and anxiety about coronavirus can affect their mental health.
Mental health practitioners, school counselors, and early learning experts in the UAE agree that these are unprecedented times and as we embrace the new ways of living and learning, it’s is a good time to look inward and prioritise our emotional wellbeing. In a letter to parents, the Dubai English Speaking School (DESS) has urged parents to take time to talk and connect to kids across all age groups.
Be mindful of signs
UK qualified Mindfulness Teacher and Family Therapist, Joanne Jewell, who works with children, adolescents and parents in Dubai, says, parents should closely watch out for any significant change in behavior, such as withdrawal from the family, seeming angry for no reason, change in appetite or sleep or energy levels.
“I would look at these changes over a week maybe, rather than over a day, as we can all have a difficult day. It’s normal for adolescents to want to spend time on their own, so it can be hard to tell if the behaviour is due to normal adolescent changes in their brain or due to them struggling. That’s why it’s so important to remain connected and observe them for a bit.” Jewel also advises parents to listen without judging or lecturing.
No peer support
With many examinations being cancelled, rescheduled or indefinitely postponed, it can be a very confusing time for adolescents, especially the older ones who would be preparing for universities in September. “Many adolescents will be feeling a sense of grief right now – for end of year events they thought would happen at school this year and for not getting to spend enough time with friends. Being online doesn’t replace being physically in the company of their peers and they do miss this social aspect.”
Monica Valrani, founder and CEO of Ladybird Nursery in Dubai says, “Simple effective communication helps to minimize the effects of change on toddlers as well. Children thrive on routine, so the best way you can support their time at home as parents is to have a dedicated area for them at home to learn and play. Even a two-year old can follow instructions. So, plan well in advance about how the week would look and stock up basic art activities to help them keep busy within the house.”
For parents who have gardens in their homes, Valrani encourages them to take the kids out for a nature walk in their own backyards. “Walk around in your garden with your kids. It’s amazing what you can find among leaves and ants and beetles.” She urges parents to keep their stress at bay and not try to fit in all activities in a day.
Jewell says for toddlers, parents can definitely rearrange the furniture in their rooms to create a space for them where they be messy. “Engage them with play dough, water and colours. Include some movements like running up and down the stairs, dancing, jumping around, just to keep them happy.”
For adolescents, however, she agrees that it can get tricky and it’s okay for parents to acknowledge that everything is not ok. Most kids would miss school, but “there are children and adolescents who find school stressful and have challenging relationships with their peers at school. Some of them have experienced bullying at school or feel anxiety every morning before going to school. For these kids, it might be a sense of relief not to be around other kids. But under the current circumstances we are in in now, it might require them to develop additional skills to ‘socialise’ online and this may be challenging for parents too!” says Jewell.
There is also the five to 10 age group that Jewell mentions where anxiety can peak. “This age group might have a lot of questions for you, so be careful as parents what you share with them and how many times you check the news,” she advises.
What can you do to help your kids?
- Use this time to teach them some life skills. It’s a great opportunity to learn cooking, do the laundry, and help with some gardening.
- Be realistic in your expectations. Adolescents do not function well in the morning and might stay up late. Accept that. Also, they might need their downtime and want to retreat into their rooms often. But encourage and insist that they come out and engage them in family activities.
- Encourage study outside the bedroom. Help them study remotely from a more central space in the house, and ideally not their bedroom. You can move around the furniture to make sure every person in the family gets a space to work and study. It’s okay that they will have their headphones on, for music or for lessons, but make sure they don’t spend the whole day in their bedrooms.
- Keep talking to them. Listen to them talk about their feelings and concerns. They may struggle with their behaviour at home away from their school routine.
- Monitor social media. Limit access to information on the Internet and through social media.
Self-care for adolescents
The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families in the UK ran a study on how young people could help themselves through self-care, which included mindfulness, spending time alone, listening to music or spending time with a pet. Here is what they heard:
- On alone time: My alone time helps me to relax and not feel judged.
- On mindfulness: It helps to bring you back to the moment instead of getting lost in racing emotions.
- On music: While listening to music, I can get lost in the songs I love and forget about whatever stress or worry I may be feeling.
- On technology: You may think your phone is essential and without it there is nothing to do, but just see how it feels to take yourself away from it for a bit. It doesn’t have to be for long but can make a whole lot of difference.’
- On a warm bath: It gives you time alone. It makes me feel refreshed.
- On spending time with pets: Talking to my dog or my cat helps, especially because he can’t talk back to me and he has no idea what I’m talking about.