Childhood Interrupted

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Neena Jacob

The title of the webinar hosted by Rohini Nilekani was ‘Childhood interrupted. How can we restore the loss to children from the Pandemic’. The speakers were all well-known in the field of education and child development and it made me realise so many things that I want to share with you.

Senior professor, department of child and adolescent psychiatry and associate dean of behavioural sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, Shekhar Seshadri captured my attention from the start. He acknowledged that this is a valid concern and detailed how we can alleviate this to an extent. He quoted Mark Twain – ‘Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child’s loss of a doll and a king’s loss of a crown are events of the same size’. Seshadri went on to say that the loss of routine, structure, predictability, peer interaction and play leads to loss of developmental experiences.

Here is what we can do as adults:

Address the anxiety of the child and uncertainty. Children may have so many anxieties which results in questions

What if I get the virus?

What will happen if both mummy and daddy get the virus?

How will we manage without daddy’s job?

When will I see my friends?

When can I go out to play?

Will I lose a year?

How will I finish my portion?

These questions have to be addressed and the child made to feel safe, and not anxious and uncertain about the future. So answer simply and allow your child to talk. Do visit Parenting Patshala on YouTube which gives simple mental health intervention.

Make childhood memories. Do not let the memories of this period be only tense ones where one is doing lessons online and unable to meet friends or go out.

Seshadri gave a lovely example of making a tent with blue cloth playing Hawaiian music and dancing away. This is so easy to do and a fun way to teach geography, music and catch phrases. You could have theme dinners and dance or singing sessions hosted by a different member of the family.

Use hyperdocs. These are digital lesson plans given to children and provide access to all the content and learning in one organised digital space. Teaching and learning has gone remote and teachers need to know how to engage their learners. Please visit hyperdocs.co to know more about this wonderful resource. This is so good for children of all levels of intellectual ability it not only engages the child but also helps with application at their own pace. Founder of Neev, Kavita Gupta says: “Restore loss of learning.”

Make an effort, get help or provide help using video tutorials to get your child to develop age-appropriate skills of learning. Be motivating and make your child develop independence. Get your child to develop a connect with his/her teacher and peers as the loss of engagement has impacted learning. So much of learning happens through social interaction. Vishal Talreja, co-founder of Dream a Dream India, says negative experiences affect a child adversely.

 Many children, especially girls, have taken on adult roles as parents are busy or sick, and have carrying out additional chores and nurturing duties. We have to be appreciative and also see that they don’t lose out on childhood. Chief of Policy Ekstep Foundation, Deepika Moglishetty’s observation were:

Routines are thrown out of gear – an overwhelming amount of information and learning is to be done independently.

Children feel stuck at home and have a lack of physical activity. Video calls do not make up totally for actual interaction.

There also is too much adult scrutiny in their lives and there is no space for them to escape to. Where there is no help from home these kids have no recourse to help in the form of tuition teachers.

So rethink and reassess your priorities. Create a stress-free environment and smother your child with love and a sense of security. The whole world is waking up to the fact that this is going to be around for a while and we have to do our best for our children.

My anecdote today is of my daughter who was all of three and when I asked her to go out and help someone she turned and said: “Mama I will not do it, you borned me you do it.”

So, dear parents the onus is on you to take your child through these traumatic times and make sure that our children will come out relatively unscathed and God willing this may only be a distant memory.

Happy parenting!

(Writer is a volunteer in local schools and a trustee with Sethu)