If the fear of catching the virus is playing on your mind, knowing that younger kids are at the least risk end of the spectrum might allay your fears.
By Geetika Sasan Bhandari
My younger child went back to physical school last week. Though the school had been physically on since the third week of January, she had opted for online classes. In January and part of February, the number of daily cases were still oscillating, and with the harmattan (dust storms) on in full swing that my child is horribly allergic to, and which bring on a bout of uncontrollable sneezing, we felt it was best she stayed at home. She also suffers from frequent nosebleeds and the heat seems to exacerbate the situation. However, of late, the cases seemed to be in control, the weather had changed, and more and more kids were returning to school.
So I approached the topic of her return, but surprisingly, was met with an outright and vehement refusal. The reasons were many but did not include the having-to-wake-up-early-again (which would probably have been my reason had I been in her shoes) or any of the ones I assumed. It was: a) Air-conditioners are off and it’s really very warm so my nose will bleed; b) The dust makes me sneeze like crazy and I can’t keep going to the washroom; and c) None of my friends are going so why should I? I reasoned with her that she could use the staggered approach; just go two or three days a week. The weather had changed and even if her nose bled, she knew how to handle it and she could go to the Infirmary. Plus, maybe seeing her go, her friends would come too.
Why did I want her to go back to school, you ask? Honestly, more than anything else, for my sanity.
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Of course, I did feel very strongly that online classes meant her screen time was way too much. Half the day was spent on the laptop for classes, and the rest on the TV or the tablet for recreation. Her physical activity was minimal, and interaction with friends was also just virtual. More than that, my other child fractured her leg three weeks ago and is in a cast, and therefore dependent to a large extent, so this meant that all my time was being spent between the two kids, coordinating that their meals get to their different rooms during their varying breaks (because they go to different schools), plus snacks and other needs. And of course, connectivity issues and an ageing laptop meant the younger one would jump into my room and take over my laptop or phone at will to reconnect to her classes.
It was driving me nuts. I just couldn’t concentrate on my own writing and the constant mess all over the house was making me batty. I was snapping and craving for normalcy—for the days when kids would be in school and I would have some quiet time to finish my assignments and give them my 100% when they were back home. Now, I found, I was giving nothing even 50%.
As expected, she came back on Day 1 and said she would like to go in the next day too. And the next. Then two days later, Thursday, was World Book Day so she wanted to dress up as a character. It was warm, and the costume she chose didn’t help so she came back with a nosebleed, and I told her she should just stay home on Friday. But come Thursday evening, the nosebleed now relegated to the recesses of her memory, she said she really wanted to go to school because they would have actual Physical Education, not a virtual one where the kids at home would be studying theory or exercising in front of a screen while their counterparts ran around on the field with their friends at school. Eventually, she went to school all five days.
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Kids crave human interaction and miss their friends too, much more than we realise. “All humans crave personal interaction, touch, novelty, and excitement. So, I believe prolonged isolation will start to wear tremendously on everyone,” says developmental psychologist and family coach Dr Cameron Caswell in an article in Healthline.com. “However, I also believe that the long-term effects of prolonged isolation will be more substantial for teens.” Going back to school will certainly benefit most kids, especially middle- and senior-school students.
If the fear of catching the virus is playing on your mind, knowing that younger kids are at the least risk end of the spectrum might allay your fears. “Sweden kept preschools, primary and lower secondary schools open during the spring of 2020. A study from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden has now shown that one child in 130,000 was treated in an intensive care unit on account of COVID-19 during March-June,” says an article in Eurakalert.org. Another article in Health.harvard.edu says, “Most children who become infected with the COVID-19 virus have no symptoms, or they have milder symptoms such as low-grade fever, fatigue, and cough.”
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However, the worry is that they could transmit it, which is why when my child comes back from school, she does not meet her grandmother, who is obviously at the highest risk, but goes for a bath and washes her hair. Every single day. That’s the deal.
If children can be made to understand that their hygiene and the safety measures they undertake are not just for them but to protect those around them who may be more susceptible, they will definitely comply. And that way, they can meet their friends, get back to some semblance of normalcy, go back to classroom learning, and you can get your sanity. I certainly got mine.
(The writer is former Editor of Child, and has recently launched a parenting platform called Let’s Raise Good Kids. She has two kids)
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