back to school anxiety hissah ec abu dhabi

2020 has been many things so far – but one thing we can all agree on is that it has been unpredictable and rather scary. A pandemic which confined the world into their homes and brought life to standstill is something which we have never seen the likes of, and now as we live through it, we have slowly learned to accept that things will never be the same again.

Schools were the first places to close, and now in the end phases of the reopening of public places, they are some of the last institutions to open up. Countries around the world have planned and executed their schools reopening – with pages worth of SOPs and protocols to follow – and it is safe to say that anxiety levels are high.

On one hand, parents have desperately been awaiting the news of schools opening up again. Kids have been out of their regular school routine and engaging in digital learning at home for the past 7 months. It has been a huge struggle for many parents, particularly working parents, to keep up with their children’s online classes as well as their own jobs. Kids have been missing the social interaction and the classroom setting. The reopening of schools seems like a dream come true!

However, on the other hand, the threat of COVID-19, particularly that of a second wave, is still very much prevalent and real. This pandemic is in no way over yet and the world is still fighting. This raises the question, as well as the fear, of whether or not opening schools at this point is the right choice. Though SOPs have been put into place which must be strictly adhered to and rigorous testing of staff and teachers is also mandatory– they are still children after all. Exposing kids to an environment we can’t control is still a risk. The threat of a rise in cases is looming over us.

This debate is pressing and there is a strong argument on both ends. One plus point is that schools in the UAE and around the world are providing parents with the option of choosing between remote learning and physical learning. It is up to parents to weigh the risks, taking their circumstances, and then decide which avenue they wish to pursue.  The option to choose is great, but it doesn’t change the fact that both choices are the basis of anxiety, uncertainty, and guilt which parents are facing. Let’s have a look at both scenarios and what we can do.

I’m not comfortable sending my child to school for physical learning yet

Social distancing? Masks? Hand washing frequently? No sharing materials or lunch? Do you really think your 6-year-old, in the all the excitement of finally going back to school, will be careful about all this? I know mine won’t. Kids are aware of the pandemic, no doubt, but they are kids – they don’t realize the implications or seriousness of it. As soon as life starts feeling normal again, and they are able to go out, see friends, go to school etc. they will start to forget that there is such a thing as COVID-19 in the first place!

Another reason people are choosing not to send their kids to school is because the child is, or someone living in the same household is, immune-compromised. The outdoor exposure which is then brought into the house can be dangerous and therefore, not taking this risk makes sense.

However, this decision tends to bring with it some guilt. “Many of the parents I see are very worried about their kids catching the infection,” says Dr. Deepti Chaturvedi, specialist in paediatrics at Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi. “But children’s psychological health is also very important. Kids have been sitting at the home for the last 6-8 months. They have been inside, not mixing with their peer group, with most learning being done online. We have seen so many cases where there have been side effects from the e-learning process because of the excessive screen time.” Deciding not to send them to school means online learning, lack of socialization, and also a sense of resentment from the kids when they see other kids going to school.

At the end of the day, parents make this decision only for the safety and wellbeing of their kids and family, so that should be a point of reassurance. It is, however, important to allow the child some socialization time where they can play with their friends outdoor, ride their bikes, take a walk, go on a picnic, visit the beach etc. Screen time should be closely monitored and eliminated where it is not necessary. If you feel that your anxiety is overwhelming you as a parent, and the decision of not sending your child to school is clouded by intense fear, please reach out for help.

I am comfortable sending my child to school for physical learning

7 months has been way too long for keeping the kids away from their regular routines and it is time for us to start learning to live with this virus and return to life as normally as possible.

For many parents the struggle of having kids at home, getting them to engage in their online classes, managing homework and housework, working from home and much more has been overwhelming and exhausting. To top it all off, parents are finding their kids have become lethargic, irritable, and anti-social during this time in isolation and glued to screens for hours every day. Routines are also a jumble and the reopening of schools feels like the solution to all these issues.

This decision tends to come with some fear and anxiety, as it almost feels like when a bird lets her babies out of the nest for the first time – exposing them to the world and not being able to monitor them all the time. We cannot help but have the gnawing fear eat away at us about whether the virus will start to spread again once kids start regularly going to school, and even worse, what if my kid catches it? Immunity levels of kids have been lowered as they have been confined from public places for so long, so common colds and stomach flus are also bound to start up again, which leave us feeling bad for exposing our kids.

It is important for parents to note that this point of going back to school will have to come one day, whether now or 6 months later, so if they feel their child is healthy and aware of the precautions they should take then they should stand firm on their decision. Educating and talking to your child continuously about the importance to adhere to the safety precautions is vital.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong. The choice is for the parents to make, as they know what is best for their child and their family. Our only wish is for us to get through this pandemic with health, peace, and more wisdom.