LIFESTYLE - IT’S a few weeks since the majority of schools in South Africa returned to full-time learning, and the effect this will have on children’s mental health should not be overlooked, an expert has advised.
Avika Daya, an educational psychologist, recently released her book, Starting School: With a Bag Full of Emotions.
It was by chance that the book came out as the country’s children exit two years of rotational-adjusted learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The move back to full-time learning, although widely lobbied for and welcomed, hardly afforded both learners and parents time to adjust practically and mentally to the re-adjustment. Daya said that while on the rotational schedule children’s lives had largely revolved around constant changes.
“Children had to rely on themselves on their days off. They had to adjust to constantly changing school routines, closures and timetable changes more than usual. They have had to cope with social distancing at school, which made it difficult for new learners to make friends.
“They have had to adapt to wearing masks for the duration of the school day and constantly sanitising. Some children have had to adjust to online learning which is very different to a physical classroom. They have had to remain without extramural activities for a long time.”
Daya said there were a number of indicators that a child may be struggling or in distress as a result of all of this.
“Listen to your children and teenagers. Notice any changes in behaviour, difficulty sleeping, bed-wetting, changes in appetite and mood. They will also need time to adjust to the new routine and so they may be feeling more fatigued and overwhelmed in the beginning.
“Create safe environments for open conversation. Open up about your own struggles regarding going back to work, etc. Show understanding and empathy when they do complain.
“Make sure they are sleeping early enough and eating breakfast. Talk about what they could expect and how things are going to change. If you are feeling out of your depth or are worried about your child, consult a psychologist,” she said.
Now faced with a situation where they have been thrust back into a full-time learning environment, on top of having to adjust and catch up academically, added stressors can be expected.
“Children will have to adjust to waking up early every day, being more accountable with regard to homework being done, and having a full classroom, which may result in less one-on-one attention and more disruption.
“For those who began school during the pandemic, this is a whole new world, as they may only know school on a rotational basis. Children are often resilient and adjust easily, but we need to give them time and understanding.
“Talk about how the school day/week is going to change and what they expect. This will help them feel more prepared and less caught off-guard. Make sure they are getting enough sleep and a nutritious meal.
“Remember that some children may even enjoy going to school more regularly, seeing all their friends and having a structure to the week. They may enjoy being able to participate more and being more free at school. Talk about it in a positive way while still acknowledging that it takes time to adjust.”
Born and raised in Bakerton, Springs, on the East Rand in Gauteng, Daya currently lives in Boksburg and works in Benoni.
After matriculating, she attended the Wits University and completed a BSc (Hons) in psychology, then a postgraduate certificate in education.
She said her passion for children stemmed from her mother.
“I taught Grade 6 and 7 mathematics at Selpark Primary School for a year and then completed my Master’s in educational psychology, also at Wits. My passion for children began from early on. My mother is a teacher with over 30 years in the field.
“She owned a preschool for a number of years. I took every opportunity to go to work with her and help out with whatever I could, especially when I would finish school early, during exams. I always enjoyed working with children and thoroughly enjoyed teaching, but over the years I realised that my passion was in therapy.”
Daya said Starting School: With a Bag Full of Emotions was inspired by her plan to write a series of books on various topics.
“This particular topic stood out for me as it’s something I was often faced with in my private practice. The book looks at separation anxiety and difficulty adjusting to new and unknown environments. It deals with the anxiety, worry, sadness and upset feelings that go along with these situations as well as ways in which parents and teachers can respond with empathy and understanding.”
Daya’s book is suitable for both classrooms and home environments.
“Younger children can be read to, while those learning to read can also enjoy it for themselves,” she said.
“The book aims to make children who are struggling to cope feel seen and understood. It aims to give parents insight into how their child may be feeling and appropriate ways of responding. Lastly, it shows children who are not experiencing difficulty a different perspective and will help them develop empathy for those around them who are struggling.”
* Starting School: With a Bag full of Emotions is available for purchase at www.inspiremeonline.co.za, on Kindle and on Amazon. Follow Daya on Facebook @avikadayaedpsych or website www.avikadaya.com