Noting that the Covid pandemic has severely affected the mental health of children, healthcare experts have said that anxiety of socialisation can be a cause of concern for students returning to schools as they were physically away from their friends and teachers for a prolonged period.
On the occasion of World Mental Health Day on Sunday, the healthcare experts said children might face anxiety returning back to schools and advised their parents and teachers to watch out for warning signs such as lack of concentration and sudden anger among children since reopening of the schools.
Schools are reopening in several states and Union Territories after remaining shut for months due to the pandemic.
The experts believe that anxiety of socialisation can be a cause of concern for students returning to schools as children were physically away from their friends and teachers for a prolonged period due to the pandemic.
Gracy Andrew, vice president and country director for India of NGO CorStone, advised parents to acknowledge and allow their children to express their fear.
"Very often parents will negate the feelings by saying 'don't be scared' or 'don't be silly', 'there is nothing to be scared' - instead it is important to let children express their fears and acknowledge that it is natural to feel anxious. Next is to really probe about what is making them scared? Is it just being with other children or is it fear of getting Covid... then provide them with information about safety and the low risk of children getting severly sick even if they get infected. Parents can support children by just being there for them as they go back to school," she told PTI.
Andrew said teachers too can let children express their fears that can be done in classrooms through activities depending on the developmental age/ level.
"Providing them with information about the virus so they have the knowledge and most important is to let attendance not be compulsory - letting children have a choice of going for a few days a week in the beginning and then may be increasing the pace as they settle in," she said.
Dr Jyoti Kapoor, senior psychiatrist, Paras Hospital in Gurgaon said parents can play an important role in helping children get back to normal.
"The pandemic has severely affected the mental health of children like never before. Anxiety of socialisation is one of the most prominent aspects as children were physically away from their friends and teachers for a prolonged period. Parents play an important role in helping children get back to normal. Watch out for warning signs such as lack of concentration, sudden anger, etc," she said.
"But most importantly, parents must get completely vaccinated as a first step to address their anxiety. They must also teach children how to maintain mask and hand hygiene. Games and activities like cycling and kabaddi that promote interaction without getting too close to partners are also a good way to address their anxiety," Kapoor told PTI.
Dr Anant Bhan, researcher of Global Health, Bioethics and Health Policy, said it is important for the school management and the government to reassure parents about the steps being taken to minimise the risk for infection spread.
"Children need to be counselled about the risk for caution, there needs to be a focus on ensuring ventilation, and encouraging complete vaccination for all adults who the kids will interact with (teachers, school staff, school transport staff, as well as members of their own families), usage of masks as per age criteria. It's also crucial to remember that there are advantages to opening schools and to socialising with other kids of their age, and this could be a vital component of the all round growth and development of our next generation," Bhan said.