At the start of a new academic year with COVID 19 continuing to affect the education of millions of students, as we continue to battle with the challenges and seize the opportunities, we are becoming more aware of the social and emotional impact of the pandemic on our young people.
During these times, teachers across the region are doing their very best for their students, working hard to support their learning. In this new school year, we, at Britus Education, have a significant percentage of our students in Dubai, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia learning online, interacting with their teachers and peers ‘at a distance’. However, students are also in school and it has been my pleasure to visit classrooms and see children learning and enjoying the new term. However, there is something uncomfortable about watching a group of socially distanced children wearing masks and visors interact with each other and with their teacher. The current circumstances remind us very clearly that there is so much more to education than learning new knowledge – how can we, during a pandemic, provide our children with the social and emotional context to thrive and enjoy life?
Whilst there may be a dearth of hard evidence, there is a developing debate about how COVID 19 is impacting on the health and wellbeing of children. The measures taken to combat COVID 19 are creating an environment where children are less able to interact with their friends, young people have a heightened concern for their future, any impact on their family income is impacting on their material wellbeing and for many young people there is a rise in anxiety and stress. So, what can we do to mitigate the impact of COVID 19 on the health and wellbeing of our young people?
The most important approach a parent can take is to stay in touch with their children; all other advice contained in this article includes this as a central theme. Maintaining positive relationships with your children will make them happier. Time spent together as a family, sharing thoughts and ideas and listening is known to have a positive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of children. Talking with your children, valuing their perspective, encouraging them to think about their feelings and emotions are all great ways to maintain wellbeing and mitigate the impact of COVID 19, during a time where they are probably spending less time with their friends and less time relaxing in social contexts.
Whilst COVID 19 restrictions have made social interaction more difficult, do try and provide opportunities for your children to spend time with their friends and family, developing and maintaining friendships is a skill that should be nurtured and will ensure your children can maintain good friendships throughout their adult life.
Try and find ways to encourage your child to have regular daily exercise, this may be in the home or could be by finding opportunities for them to swim, go running, for walks or enjoy cycling. If you can find the time to exercise with your children even better, they will enjoy spending time with you and it is a good time to talk to your child. Exercise is known to make us feel more positive about life and can help alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
During the pandemic, where routines may have been disrupted, sleep is even more important and establishing a routine that ensures your children have a good sleep pattern will help their physical and mental wellbeing. As a parent it is good to be involved in the sleep routine, it might include bath-time, story reading, a reflection discussion about the day or listening to relaxing music. Whatever the routine, be involved in the routine and try and do the same thing every night at a similar time. Your child should not use any phone, laptop or tablet technology for at least an hour before sleep, this gives their brain a chance to relax prior to bedtime.
Active learning develops an active brain and this has a positive impact on mental wellbeing. And, whilst schools carry a big responsibility for learning, young people like to learn outside of the boundaries of the school and they like to learn with their parents and families. So, find ways to learn together as a family. You may cook together, bake a cake or learn a new language. Maybe you could work on a photography project together or some simple carpentry or DIY. Anything that provides families with a chance to spend time together, learning together, is a wonderful opportunity to develop relationships and positive wellbeing.
There is some evidence that the COVID 19 pandemic has affected our optimism for the future. Young people may be concerned that their future has been compromised by the pandemic, they may wonder if things will ever be the same again, whether they will have the opportunity to travel, to study at university or to enjoy the career of their dreams. Talk to your children about their dreams and ambitions, help them to recognize that the pandemic won’t be here forever. Through discussion and active listening, help your children to keep hoping and to keep dreaming, to be positive about the future and their ambitions for their lives. To maintain a positive perspective on the future will help your children to be more effective in managing the present situation.
Our young people are looking to their parents to be an optimistic and positive force in their lives. It is important not to underestimate the challenges our societies face because of the COVID 19 pandemic and the impact it has had on all our lives. However, there is a great deal we can do to help our young people thrive rather than just survive.
Mark Whitfield, Education Director of Britus Education
As Education Director of Britus Education, Mark comes to the Britus Education with more than 20 years of experience in the education sector. A qualified teacher, Mark spent thirteen years working in the university teacher education sector in the UK and for the last 7 years Mark has worked in the schools sector in the Middle East. An inclusive educator, Mark’s philosophy of education is uncompromising in a belief that all students have the potential to succeed and the right to a good education. Mark holds an MA in Education Leadership and Management and a BA in Religious Studies and Education, both from the University of Lancaster.