Education News

Decoding the impact of 2 years of pandemic on the social skills of children and how schools can help

Bonny Bhansali, Principal, The Green Acres Academy

We have grown up hearing the importance of the adage- ‘A sound mind in a sound body’ and this is applicable not for adults but children too. In fact, for children to reach developmental milestones, good mental health is just as vital as good physical health. It aids in the emotional well-being and social skills of children. When kids socialize they learn how to interact with others and develop values and skills like empathy, kindness, compassion, teamwork, cooperation, respect,  courage and forgiveness. These skills are crucial to their cognitive, linguistic and physical development, all of which are interconnected!

However the last two years of the pandemic have severely impacted the social skills of children who have been cooped up in their homes with little avenues of social interaction.

More than 330 million youngsters were stuck at home till March 2021, as per a UNICEF Report.

Schools around the world had to make a transition to online teaching overnight, but this transition brought in its wake a diverse set of challenges for everyone, including teachers, students and their families. Children’s mental health might have been significantly impacted by anxiety, grief, worry, uncertainty, social isolation and increased screen usage.

Students were deprived of opportunities of regular social interactions and developing social skills that are typically acquired in the formative years. The pandemic limited their interactions to their parents, siblings and grandparents leaving no scope for interacting with other children from the same age group. There was some virtual interaction through  G meet, Zoom or virtual play dates but the students missed simple things like having lunch with their classmates, talking to their friends after a football match, or just cracking a joke in the class.

As physical schools reopened after an interlude of almost two years, several children developed separation anxiety as they had grown accustomed to being with their family and didn’t want to move out of their comfort zone. While many other students felt socially anxious and apprehensive about meeting their friends and teachers when they returned to school.

It is therefore critical for schools to create safe spaces for students to express themselves among peers and teachers and help them gradually and organically make this transition back to in-person classroom learning.

Teachers in particular have a vital role to play in making this happen. Here are some suggestions that might be helpful:

1. Creating a safe learning environment: Using routines and structures will enable students to know what to expect and ease them into the daily school schedule. Students can help decorate the classroom walls with bright and welcoming slogans and thus be involved in making the classroom a safe and pleasant space.

2. One-to-one conversation: Teachers need to pay close attention to students’ concerns and show them understanding and empathy. They must try to engage in a one-to-one conversation if they find any sign that a child is struggling. If the child reveals anything concerning then, it would be best to loop in the child’s parents and the school counselor.

3. Opportunities for social interactio: Students should be provided with informal opportunities to play and interact with their friends through sports and games. Community building events like celebrations of festivals and important days, fun competitions will help students socialize and bond with their classmates thus creating a sense of community and social connectedness.

4. Collaborative learning: Teachers can use learner directed approaches like Project Based Learning (PBL) where children can engage, learn and create social action projects to solve real world problems. PBL encourages students to take charge of their learning. Students gain self-confidence and learn to communicate clearly while solving problems creatively and thinking out of the box. Using group work protocols during class activities like group discussions and group presentations will ensure that every student has an opportunity to contribute and share his/her ideas.

5. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL): Students learn to manage and regulate their emotions as well as acquire interpersonal skills that are essential for success in school, career, and life through social and emotional learning. By integrating socio-emotional learning into classroom instruction, schools can help children develop self-awareness, self-management, conflict resolution and decision-making skills. Engaging in certain mindfulness and relaxation activities at the beginning and end of the school day will also relieve anxiety among students and tune them into the school routine.

6. Parental involvement: It is imperative that schools rope in the parents and share suggestions with them on how they can support their children develop interpersonal skills be it spending quality time with them, playing games or even by role modeling to help them know how to react in a given situation. Parents can also ask their children to express and share any feelings of fear, anger or worry that they may be experiencing through creative means like drawing or painting.

The responsibility of helping students develop a sense of belonging and enabling them to express themselves freely in any social setting lies with the school and the educators and creating a learning environment that is safe, supportive and equitable is the first step in that direction.

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