It's been a school year like no other. Nothing can make up for all the things the children have missed out on and gone through, amid the agony of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It's not just the kids. The distress of the parents has been equally heavy.
Usha Muddhol, a mother of two, is worried that her son who's in Class 2, is missing out on early education. This has put his foundation under serious threat, she says.
"Now, the burden is on me to keep an eye on his spelling, handwriting."
Like millions of children, Atharva is also missing out on a chance to get out in the world, socialize, and break out of his shy shell.
The lockdown has left Kartik sad and angry. The sixth-grader spends most of his time indoors on television or playing video games.
"He has become arrogant and shouts at us," says his mother, who can't wait for the school to reopen, even though she's worried about his safety.
The cloud of COVID is still hanging over all of us. But there seems to a silver lining with the number of cases coming down and vaccinations picking up.
Schools are gradually reopening in some places for select age groups.
As much as it is important to reopen schools, it's equally vital how it's done and how prepared we all are.
So, how can parents and children prepare themselves for the big shift? FIT spoke to doctors to help you navigate.
Prepare Them for the Big Day!
The first thing parents should do is start talking about the back to school transition, long before it arrives.
"They have to explain it to children that this situation cannot go on indefinitely," Dr Sandeep Vohra, a Psychiatrist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals in Delhi, said.
Talk about the big changes, and the small changes. Talk about everything and make space for them.
"So, the positive aspects of going to the school, meeting their friends, albeit COVID appropriate behaviour, have to be told," Dr Vohra said.
Fix Your Sleep Wake Cycle
Covid has turned our sleep cycles upside down and there has been a significant change in our lifestyle habits.
Fix your schedule and sleep wake cycle. This is the most important thing to do.
"So that you start getting into bed, latest by 11 pm and that you're up and about by six or seven...This gives you enough time to do your daily chores and then reach school," Dr Sameer Malhotra, a Psychiatrist at Max Super Speciality Hospital in Delhi, said.
Not just children, parents should sleep for six to eight hours, too.
Dr Malhotra says this requires adaptation. But the good news is that our brains can learn, unlearn and relearn, which takes time, but worth it!
Reinforce COVID-Appropriate Behaviour
Hygiene protocol – tell the kids over and over again, in order to reinforce COVID appropriate behaviour.
“This Covid has become quite prolonged. At times, we tend to give up and take things for granted – following the same precautions everyday –especially children," Dr Malhotra said.
COVID appropriate behaviour has to be reinforced in not just younger kids, but adolescents too, because children in this age group tend to experiment and rebel, says Dr Vohra.
Talk, Talk & Talk
Back to school can be a stressful time for several kids under normal circumstances, but amid Covid, this could bring heightened anxiety in many.
Children may become a little emotionally overwhelmed, because they will be meeting their friends after quite some time.
"Parents have to be very supportive and encourage the child to speak about everything. it could be related to studies, fear of COVID, it could be anything. But they should have a two-way communication," Dr Vohra said.
Get Kids to Move Their Body
It is also important to support the children’s physical health by ensuring they get enough sleep, are active and eating healthy food.
Encouraging them to do any kind of physical activities that they enjoy is important, Dr Malhotra said.
"It will give them a sense of meaning, purpose, movement, achievement, motivation."
Red Flags To Look Out For
Children might exhibit stress and anxiety in different ways. Since parents know their children best, they should look out for significant changes in their behaviour and seek medical help when required.
Parents, Look After Yourselves Too
Parents should also check in on their own mental health and practice compassion and self-care.
If parents are stressed, children will pick up on that. Taking care of themselves will benefit everyone.
"They should handle their anxiety and make sure not to demonstrate it in front of the children which tends to make them jittery," Dr Vohra said.
Getting enough rest, sleep is also important, along with a structured day and healthy diet.
In stressful situations, they should speak with their partner or anyone their comfortable with, Dr Vohra said.
There also has to be certain division of roles and responsibilities within the household, so that the entire responsibility doesn’t fall on one particular parent.
It's a big transition, after a long period of time.
"If they go with an open mind, it should be easy to adapt. Acceptance and adaptability is a significant life skill, which is the key", Dr Malhotra says.