Too anxious about Covid-19 to return to school

Not only have they become too comfortable staying at home over the long period, but they are also worried about whether they are able to get used to the new culture

By SHANIKA ABDULLATIB

NORMA Arif (not her real name) was at her wits’ end when primary schools reopened on July 22 and she struggled with sending her eight-year-old son Haiqal to school.

“I don’t want to go to school…I will get Covid-19,” the boy would protest each time his mother coaxed him to get ready for school.

Norma, 35, an accountant by profession, had noticed a change in her son’s behaviour ever since the government announced that schools, which had remained shut since the enforcement of the Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 18, would reopen in July.

“Haiqal became quieter, but would get angry quickly. But the worst part was he repeatedly refused to go to school. I didn’t know whether to laugh or become worried when he told me he was afraid of Covid-19,” she said.

Norma said she spoke to his teachers who advised her to send her son for counselling at a hospital here. The counselling sessions revealed that the prospect of learning in a new, stringent standard operating procedures (SOPs)-fuelled environment had put Haiqal under a lot of stress.

Depression

Consultant psychiatrist at Universiti Malaya Assoc Prof Dr Muhsin Ahmad Zahari said the current environment has proven to be challenging for children who are pressured to adhere to the SOPs and new normal way of life.

“Admittedly, (in view of the Covid-19 pandemic) a mental health epidemic appears to have hit all groups of people, including children who, in particular, are increasingly facing the issue of depression,” he told Bernama.

Having been away from their school, teachers and classmates for over three months, the children are bound to feel anxious about returning to their classroom and rebuilding their relationship with their friends and teachers, and adapting to the new school environment.

“Not only have they become too comfortable staying at home over the long (MCO) period, but they are also worried about whether or not they are able to get used to the new culture…this explains their reluctance to go back to school,” he added.

Parents Overprotective

Overprotective parents are also to be blamed for their children’s refusal to return to school. Their undue concern for their children’s well- being often, unwittingly, pushes up their children’s anxiety levels.

“When parents are overly concerned and keep reminding their children what they should do and shouldn’t do, the kids will end up wanting to stay away from school,” Dr Muhsin said, adding that it is the parents’ duty to ensure their children do not feel stressed.

This is the first time people are experiencing the new normal environment and as such, parents have to think and behave more rationally in order to inject confidence into their children.

“Children will feel more confident when they know that they can stay safe by following the SOPs,” he added.

Dr Muhsin also said patients who came to see him during the MCO for consultation and counselling included permanent residents and expatriates who were either working or studying in Malaysia.

“Their children were also experiencing stress, more so because they are living in an environment and culture different from their own. But they understood what needs to be done through the good example set by their parents.

“Their level of discipline is good, particularly among expatriates from Japan and South Korea, who are known for their high standard of hygiene. Hence, it is easier for their children to comply with the SOPs such as wearing a mask, sanitising their hands and observing physical distancing,” he added.

Social Skills

Dr Teoh says social isolation would also lead to children feeling bored and despondent for not being allowed to pursue their normal activities

Psychiatrist Dr Joni Teoh, who is attached to Hospital Tunku Azizah (formerly known as the Kuala Lumpur Women and Children’s Hospital), acknowledged that children are more likely to feel anxious about Covid-19, more so if they do not have an adequate understanding of the disease.

“Their feelings of anxiety are exacerbated when they are not allowed to indulge in their favourite outdoor activities,” she said.

Admitting that social interactions among children changed significantly after schools reopened recently, she said some children would need more time to adapt to the new norms.

“This is why it’s important for parents to serve as good role models and explain to their children the precautions they should take to stay safe, such as wearing a mask, washing their hands and using a sanitiser frequently,” she added.

Dr Teoh said social isolation would also lead to children feeling bored and despondent for not being allowed to pursue their normal activities.

“When there’s no daily routine or structure for children to follow, which is what happened during the MCO, they are more likely to get angry quickly and quarrel with their siblings,” she explained.

She said it is important to teach children to learn to recognise their own and other people’s emotions, as well as discuss their emotional feelings with their parents.

“And, parents should also use this opportunity to discuss with their children about ways to control their emotions and solve their problems,” she said, adding that this way, the children will also learn to empathise with people which will help improve their social skills. — Bernama