Children have an innate urge to interact with their environment. This interaction is largely by way of exploring the environment through their sense of touch, smell and taste which develop earlier and better as compared to vision and hearing. This makes them seek proximity with other living beings for warmth, nourishment and security. As we grow, we develop a better control over our instinctive needs and regulate our social behaviour in keeping with socio-cultural norms. Several studies have inquired into the role of social isolation in early psychological development and found it to have a significant negative impact on personality development. In modern world, increasing social isolation with nuclear families, one child norm and greater migratory activity, the physical spaces for social interactions are drastically limited.
The COVID pandemic has forced us to go into physical distancing to avoid transmission but this has also impacted the opportunities of social interaction at school, work place and other spaces that had become the primary areas for socialising.
Children, who are naturally inclined to explore and interact with outside world find themselves confined to boundaries of their homes or societies, often feeling restless and frustrated. The sudden loss of a familiar routine, inability to meet and interact with their friends in schools and unknown and ill-defined fears perceived in environment is further increasing the level of stress in their immature mind. Additional inclusion of online classes with the oft faced deterrents of technical issues and internet connectivity further complicates the scenario.
Our endeavour in these testing times is thus to understand this important psychological issue and find ways to better deal with them to avoid long term effects on stress perception and tolerance in young generation.
1. Communication, both verbal and non-verbal is an important tool in addressing psychological issues. Children need physical touch and while they can't have 'high fives' and fist fights with their friends, it's a good idea to have more physical contact at home, let them hug you, hold your hand or indulge in immature cuddly behaviour, whatever their age. It will help you too.
2. Although excessive screen time is discouraged in normal circumstances, in present scenario, it is a pertinent way of reducing sense of isolation. With masks on, non-verbal communication which is important in feeling connected is lost. Let children have virtual meetings with family and friends regularly, albeit with some precautions to avoid internet associated threats.
3. Online education is helping children pursue a regular routine, but our technical resources are not advanced enough to give a smooth experience. Teachers and students both lack training for use of virtual platforms for educational purposes which creates a disturbance in the process of social connectivity, more so for younger kids who have varying requirements for time and patience making them feel ignored and anxious. This requires sensitization of both teachers and children that it's alright to not understand everything in one go and make it a more fun exercise then keeping stringent goals of imparting a standard curriculum in limited time.
4. Older Students and teachers, although better able to regulate their online behaviour, often find themselves getting hassled with poor connectivity and limitations of available equipment. Most children have started the new session with a new curriculum and teachers and don't have access to books at present. They also find themselves ignored in online classrooms and unable to raise doubts because of limitations of the available equipment. Being sensitive to their concerns is first step in sorting them. An occasional one on one interaction with their subject teachers can go a long way in avoiding building initial negative impressions and forging better relationships.
5. Social health is more about bonding with others then just having a huge number of people around. It is not dependent on a number of Facebook friends but one's ability to interact with them in an emotionally enriching manner. Children need to be made to understand this difference and encouraged to use this time to develop connectivity with oneself by process of self-observation to have a better ability to connect with others.
As the lockdown helps the nature rejuvenate, its an opportunity for us to develop positive social health and rejuvenate social relationships in novel and insightful ways.
About the author: Dr. Jyoti Kapoor Madan is a well renowned Psychiatrist in Delhi- NCR. With over 15 years of experience Dr. Jyoti had worked as a Psychiatry Consultant, Researcher and Psychotherapist in her tenure with famous hospitals. She is currently a Psychiatrist at Paras Hospital, Gurugram.
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