The vast majority of India’s estimated 250 million schoolchildren have not entered a classroom for almost seven months. Having to adapt to remote, virtual learning has presented a host of challenges for many children and added an extra layer of stress for parents.
“Most kids feel connected and happy when they learn alongside other children. So moving from an environment where they are sharing experiences with friends. There are lots of opportunities for fun and play, to home learning where. They are interacting with a screen, will feel stagnant in comparison,” explains Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist.
“Children benefit from having a steady and consistent routine, so any significant change. To that is likely to have a destabilising effect in more ways than one,” she adds. We look at some common concerns that have emerged with remote learning and how to overcome them.
1. Headaches, eye pain and strain:
The switch to online classes means that children are inevitably spending more time in front of a screen. The exposure to blue light that is emitted from a screen can put a strain on the eyes, causing itching, dryness and burning sensations. “Frequent breaks from laptops and computers can help and if they are experiencing eye strain, book an eye test. As they may need glasses or an anti-glare screen cover,” shares Dr Charlie Easmon, a general practitioner. Experts recommend the 20-20-20 rule, which involves a 20 second screen break, every 20 minutes.
Poor posture such as slouching at a desk for long periods puts pressure. On the back muscles and ligaments triggering neck aches, back pain and headaches. Make sure your child is sitting comfortably and practicing proper ergonomics. “It’s important to sit with a straight back to avoid muscle tension,” advises Dr Easmon. “Laptops and monitors should be elevated to eye level to prevent neck pain and elbows should be at 90 degrees to the flat surface,” he adds.
2. Lack of motivation:
Kids can struggle to stay engaged when glued to a screen for most of the day. “Some children may be lacking the motivation to learn, as they don’t have any of the social interaction or live engagement that they usually get in a school environment,” says Dr Touroni. Parents can make a difference in this regard. “Encourage your child to have virtual study groups with their friends to increase the amount of social interaction they’re getting,” she says. Try setting some achievable short and long-term goals for your child for example, learning a set of times tables or new vocabulary, may motivate them to make further progress.
3. Behavioural issues:
A change in routine has affected children in different ways. While some kids may be thriving during their time at home, others might be experiencing difficulties. A lockdown experience is very unusual and it is common for behavioural issues to be exacerbated by the strangeness, stagnation and stresses of being confined to our homes.
“Processing change might manifest in mood swings, tantrums and other problematic behaviours,” explains Dr Touroni. “It’s important to communicate with your child. Speak to them openly and try to understand their needs and how they’re feeling day-to-day. It might involve needing to be more tolerant, given that this is a reaction to a very abnormal situation,” she adds.
Dr Easmon believes we should also accept their unhappiness and disappointment, but hold up hope. “Show points of light by breaking the negative with spontaneous fun and family activities. Use your imagination, creativity, share ideas and innovate to find solutions to break the monotony of lockdown,” says Dr Easmon.
Interacting with their peers is an important part of development for children, but with most of the nation’s kids now homebound, social deprivation may be a concern. “Social distancing is likely to detract from the spontaneity of being a child and interacting freely with other children,” explains Dr Touroni. She advises parents to use this time to build relationships at home.
“Try to provide as many opportunities for social engagement, be it an online quiz with friends. A Zoom call with the family you want to ensure they’re not isolated or missing out on important aspects of social connection—even if it can’t be in person,” adds Dr Touroni.
Although this is a worrying time, parents need not fret too much about the long-term effects of social isolation. “Children are usually very resilient they should be perfectly able to adapt and make a full recovery from any impact of lockdown without it causing any lasting psychological changes,” shares Dr Touroni.