Young childhood is a time of quick learning and development so adaptation is easier for children than for older people. Nevertheless, the pandemic has obviously caused social isolation and has exaggerated drastically a trend that began with heavy use of social media.
The problem now is that the environment which is shaping growth and development of children is abnormal. The long-term effects are yet to be seen but they may be more adverse for the kids who find it hard to pick up social skills at school.
That doesn’t mean they will necessarily be fearful or more at risk simply because of their younger age. For most youth, after the pandemic, I foresee some adaptation problems. There is no scientific evidence that today’s young people are less adaptable or resilient than previous generations. As usual, some will adapt more easily than others as the “new normal” becomes normal.
Special needs children are among those who will face bigger hurdles. There will be problems catching up after such a long period away from their teachers. Special needs training, such as speech therapy and occupational therapy have lapsed too, and that could mean a detrimental lag in rehabilitation progress, especially during the critical preschool period.
Another group that will find it hard to catch up will be students from disadvantaged families. There has been less support and fewer resources at home. It will be more difficult for their teachers to help them because they have lost a whole year when their progress would have been tracked in school. The disparity between high and low achievers will become more marked at a stage when resources and exposure to diverse learning opportunities are very important.
As the effect of the pandemic has been to polarize and exaggerate different kinds of children, so we have also seen more symptoms of depression and anxiety emerge in all age groups. Our habits and activities have been restricted or stopped so the impact has been felt by everyone. However, for those who had mental health issues before pandemic, the effect will be emphasized.
The pandemic has exaggerated drastically the trend of social isolation that began with social media.
Parents and teachers can help to smooth the transition back to normal school life but teachers in particular will have a hard time managing this, especially among the younger kids who have just started school. It will add to the already heavy burden that teachers carry.
It is not that catching up is impossible. A good support network makes transitions throughout life smoother. It may sound like a panacea but it works so well. With good friends, parents and siblings sharing the struggle, everyone feels less alone.
Special needs children will face bigger hurdles.
This is not to deny the challenges. The biggest task for teachers will be catching up with the curriculum but they will also need to be more sensitive than ever to students’ needs. They will be first in line to see if anything is wrong at school and will benefit from heightened awareness of behavioural changes or emotional signs of struggle.
From my experience in teacher training, I would advise not taking student behaviour at face value. Behavioural changes or emotional signs give clues, as does anything unusual. If a pupil is sleeping in class, for example, it may be because the class is boring but it may also be a signal that he or she is not getting enough sleep at night.
I would advise not taking student behaviour at face value.
For parents managing the transition back to school, I would say look for signs of maladaptation, unexpected mood swings, activity or motivation levels, sleep and appetite. These can reflect underlying mental health changes.
Otherwise, while everyone’s socialization has been affected, we are all basically human animals. Most of us enjoy company and children enjoy school life. The majority will be looking forward to getting back to it. They will adapt to change.
While not everyone is equally adaptable to the ever-changing environment, the emotional resilience and protective factors that come with wellbeing will help with coping, whatever your age. It is always worth remembering that if you want students to learn well, they also need to be mentally and physically well. These aspects of wellness are interdependent and inseparable.”
Ernest Wong completed his training in clinical psychology with a master’s degree at the University of Hong Kong after finishing his undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto. He has always been passionate about youth and community work and before practising as a clinical psychologist, he taught in an underprivileged secondary school in Hong Kong.