By Dr. Antonia Torrens, KMOP.
Ηoping that this new school year is starting with a greater sense of regularity for pupils and their families, I would like to share with you some thoughts.
Ι do not want to touch upon topics already known by parents, regarding the good habits they can help their children acquire since one can find ample information online and adapt it to the needs and values of their own families. What would I like to focus on instead, is the attention we must pay to our children’s feelings and emotions at present time, due to the prolonged period of abnormality we are still facing, as well as the psychological burden that Covid-19 has left to almost everyone.
More specifically, I am referring to conditions such as the fear of the disease and its expansion, the uncertainty we feel, the weariness stemming from the restrictive measures and reduction of activities, the fear of losing a loved one, the sense that the financial situation of a family is deteriorating, the anger arising from limited interaction with our loved ones, etc. These circumstances have left deep marks on adults, as well as on children, especially when they realize the situation is being prolonged and the time frame for emerging out of it remains unknown.
As such, mirroring the world of adults, a large number of children around the world -especially children with a background of psychological vulnerabilities -are currently experiencing significant levels of anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders and post-traumatic stress and are phenomena unprecedented to such an extent in childhood.
What is it then we can do for children at this point, while at the same time they harbor feelings of optimism associated with returning to their preferred reality, but also suspicion about the various difficulties which are still obviously present?
Some useful advice:
We can inform children about Covid-19 and the status of the pandemic so far, avoiding overestimating either underestimating the facts. When doing this, it is important to consider their age and maturity level.
We can protect them from the constant exposure to TV news and try to find alternative ways to communicate with them. This, along with other benefits, will help our children move away from the screens they were excessively attached to during the incarceration period.
We can for example enjoy with our children going for a walk, or on a bike ride, having a chat with them about their hobbies or friends, asking them about a movie they would like to see, planning to purchase supplies for the new school year, or anything else we feel could be interesting to them. After all, children have a great capacity for being flexible, adaptable and get easily excited when feeling that the adult addressing them is genuinely interested in them, loves them, and approaches them with empathy.
As adults, it is important to try to control our own anxieties regarding our children’s performance at school or other activities they partake in. Due to the excessive workload we often have, we communicate messages to our children about the “obligation” they have to be consistent with their responsibilities since we do everything on our part to provide for them. However, children may not be able to see this perspective, as they often feel that homework is a responsibility they have to keep up with for the sake of their parents.
So, let’s give them the opportunity to claim the responsibility for their own duties, without providing them with readily available solutions to every difficulty they might face.
When we are given the opportunity to spend some leisure time with them, we may talk to them in general about the benefits that one gets from education, by giving them examples from real life. This, in the long run, may prove to be more beneficial for them.
We can also try to find some time during the day to ask them how was their day at school. However, if they are reluctant to answer such questions, we should not insist on a reply. Later on, during the day when they feel more relaxed, we can come back and try to communicate with them by initiating conversations with more focused questions (e.g., which teacher they like more, whether something happened at school they enjoyed or not, etc.). It is important for them to feel that we want to be real with them and listen actively to what they say.
Finding opportunities to interact with them, by creating pathways for open conversation and communication, is the best we can do. Children have the need to feel that they are loved and respected by their parents unconditionally.
Last but not least we have to admit that the mental wellbeing of parents is a crucial factor for achieving a good level of interaction with the children. The good mental health of parents and the way they manage to control their own emotions is the basic condition for them so as to be able to perceive and mentally metabolize the emotions that circulate in children.
Dear friends, let’s all as parents consider that now more than ever, we are experiencing unprecedented situations caused by the pandemic and other adversities, with considerable social implications that to a greater or lesser extent have impacted us all. In such an environment, let’s consider the importance of our roles as parents and pedagogues and recognize that despite the difficulties we encounter, we have the power to inspire our children with optimism and hope, which are vital for their development. In the absence of such inspiration, children will not be able to balance life, dream of the future, exploit their skills to their full potential, and after all, feel free to enjoy life.
We wish everyone a happy school year!
Dr. Antonia Torrens
General Director of KMOP and Vice-President of COFACE Families Europe
**DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author, not of COFACE Families Europe**
About the author:
Dr. Antonia Torrens is an Educational psychologist and the General Director of KMOP. Education, employability promotion, and design of active employment measures for vulnerable groups, are some of the areas of Dr. Torrens’ expertise. Dr. Torrens is the founder and coordinator of a national project in Greece called “Live Without Bullying” which assists large numbers of children and adolescents to face bullying and cyberbullying.