With schools starting the new academic year with the Blended Learning plan, a clinical psychologist from Sidra Medicine has emphasised the need for mental and psychological well-being of students, given the Covid-19 scenario.
“Children need to maintain safe social interactions as they can," suggested Dr Erin Valentine, clinical psychologist, Psychiatry Department & Developmental Paediatrics Division at Sidra Medicine, a Qatar Foundation entity.
"Children need connections to their friends and family to feel safe and happy and to practice their social emotional skills, as well as all developmental skills. There can be safe ways for children to stay connected, which may be by video chats or only socialising with a small group of friends, or only with cousins or family,” she explained.
As for the behavioural and social changes, the expert noted that many children will struggle with going back to school for a number of reasons. According to Dr Valentine, first, many were hopeful they would be able to return to their “normal” school life this fall and that just isn’t going to happen.
"So there is disappointment to deal with. Many children did not like learning exclusively online and so starting back with blended learning online may be hard as it will remind them of what they did not like about the past semester.”
The clinical psychologist pointed out that a blended approach to attending school, with some in-person and some home/online learning, will be hard for children who for the most part thrive on routine.
Dr Valentine highlighted that children will need time to adjust when it comes to returning to the new school environment. “I expect different children will react differently based on their individual temperament and also some of the experiences they have had over the past six months. Different families have had different approaches to managing their children’s social interactions over the past six months and those past experiences, as well as how children and families prepare for returning to school and seeing friends now- I think- will have the biggest impact on children’s feelings of isolation upon returning to school,” she explained.
According to the official, routines around waking, eating, school, play, exercise, socialising, homework among others are important for children to have a sense of security and safety. “It is the foundation from which they are able to manage their time and emotions. These should also include routines around saying goodbye at school and if children are feeling a loss of being close to parents, special ways of staying connected, like having a small note or keepsake in their pocket from their mother that they can take to school,” she described.
The psychologist noted that the children should be taught to maintain healthy habits.
“Make sure hand washing and mask wearing are understood by children – how they help and why they are effective. Then make sure these habits are practised properly. Remind children to take their mask off when getting home and wash their hands right away,” continued, Dr Valentine.
The clinical psychologist said it is better to talk honestly and age appropriately with children about what is happening than to keep them in the dark and guessing. “Of course we are all guessing about what is happening next, but sharing this uncertainty is also okay. Talk about what you do know and what your questions are too, then ask your children about their questions and the certainties they have,” added Dr Valentine.