Approaching children in a way that encourages them to open up

Approaching children in a way that encourages them to open up

According to recent research, the prevalence of anxiety and sadness in children increased during the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the lives of children, who are acutely aware of the changes. As a result, children became introverted, refusing to open up to anyone to express their feelings.

Hence it is critical that schools have well-defined strategies to ensure the social and emotional health of their students. This is especially relevant during this transition phase, wherein children are shifting from online learning to physical school.

Balance between academic rigor and emotional needs

Educational institutions need to accept the fact that these past 18 months have not been easy for any learner, and it has impacted their academic progress. The reality is that in this current scenario, every child will have an academic gap. In senior grades, they are transitioning from online to offline learning.

Although they are glad to return to school, we have to be prepared for challenges. The stress of academics cannot be increased at an accelerated pace, to make up for the academic gap.

We have to assess, where the child is right now and then set the pace for academic progress in a positive and realistic manner. This is applicable, even for children from the primary department, who have undergone 18 months of schooling online and are still, continuing with the same. These children are not only in front of the screen from 8:30 to 3:30; but also have additional homework after school hours. Now after 18 months, the novelty of online school will wear off and they will find it difficult to motivate themselves to fulfil their academic tasks.

For these children, we not only, need to have a blended approach of online & offline activities but also the larger vision, that we aspire to create happy, confident and emotionally happy children. The less stressed the children are, the better will be their academic progress. Hence fine-tuning the pace of academic progress, to a level that does not stress the children out is the need of the hour.

“Mentoring” as a strategy

Schools must create a safe environment for students to express their feelings and experiences about situations, which is essential for developing healthy emotional well-being and individual growth. Children coming back after a long hiatus will face challenges and hence, Mentoring Programs can ensure a smooth transition. A mentor is a grown-up friend for the child — a bond between teachers & students that goes beyond academics. This relationship is a socio-emotional gateway for children. Children can be themselves, express themselves emotionally or any other issue that they are going through. Here the key point to understand is that the role of the teacher should not be misinterpreted. The teacher is an individual in a position of authority who guides the child in every aspect of their learning. Hence, as much as possible, teachers, who assume the roles of mentors to students should be ones who are not in a teacher-student relationship with them.

Holistic and socio-emotional development

Schools must develop programmes that are entirely focused on the student’s well-being and social development, which is critical during a global pandemic. Programmes that go beyond academics and educational transactions focus on forming bonds between students and teachers for the sole purpose of communication. Students spend a majority of their time focused on educational activities, exams, and assignments, leaving little time for conversations that are critical to their mental well-being and growth. Furthermore, schools must focus on a student’s socio-emotional development because it aids in their educational development. Emotions can help or hinder children’s academic engagement, dedication, and school achievement because social and emotional processes influence how and what we learn. Teachers are the primary emotional leaders of their students, and their ability to detect, comprehend, and regulate their own emotions is the foundation for fostering emotional balance in their groups.

How to help ease your child's fears and anxiety about returning to class

How to help ease your child’s fears and anxiety about returning to class

“Asking your kid things like, ‘What was the most challenging part of your day, what was the best part of your day, what do you need help with tomorrow,” Sell said. “It gives them opportunities and prompts them to express what’s going on inside of them.”

Dr. Sell says children who are anxious about school tend to procrastinate, may begin fighting with parents over doing homework and often have problems sleeping.

To begin helping them, it’s important for both parents and teachers to recognize more of those typical warning signs, such as a disengaged child.

“Someone who might be tying their shoes too long and might not want to participate in reading or math,” Sell said. “Or a chatty person because those are all types of disengagement.”

Some of these things may sound familiar because we tend to do the same, but we have to remember that a child isn’t yet equipped to handle the same problems as adults.

“We allow ourselves maybe the freedom and opportunity to call into work if we don’t want to go,” Dr. Sell says. “But our kids, when they don’t want to go we say, ‘You have to go.’ We’re pushing them to do something they don’t want to do, which is OK, but if it’s bigger than that, then we have a problem.”

Here are Dr. Sell’s top six tips to help keep the stress at bay so you and your child can have a successful school year:

Tip #1: Keep a consistent sleep-wake schedule even on the weekends

Well before the start of the school year, you should be transitioning away from staying up late and sleeping in. A child and teen’s body relies on adequate sleep to maintain alertness and the ability to retain new information. Many times parents allow their children to change their sleep habits on the weekend which negatively impacts their sleep for the following week. Stay consistent with their schedule and with your own.

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Tip #4: Take the heat off of grades

Parents, did you know that your child’s grades in elementary, middle and even high school do not define the potential of the person they will become. Too often I hear parents pushing their kids to get A’s and take advanced placement courses when they really aren’t necessary. Don’t pay your kids for grades, instead pay attention to your kids. Have evening talks about the best parts of the day, the challenges they are having and what they are looking forward to instead of only worrying about grades.

“Look at things like resiliency.” Dr. Sell says, “How is your kid bouncing back from a poor grade on a test? How are they doing how are they emotionally doing, how can they do better to prepare. that type of thing.”

Tip #5: Don’t overcommit

Kids need breaks too. If you have them signed up for every single after school activity, you are likely just introducing stress on the entire family. Instead pick one or two things to participate in for the entire year. That will reduce your kids stress load as well, and reduce your own.

Tip #6: Don’t be a hypocrite

Yes, you are the adult, but you are also setting the example for your kids. If you expect them to put their electronics down, eat differently before bed and have a set bedtime and wake time, you do the same. Instead of arguing about why you can do it differently, do it with them. Ultimately it will help your sleep too.

Remember, kids feed off of your emotional energy, so If we’re stressed, they’ll be stressed; and Dr. Sell says the best way to help them is to stay calm ourselves.

“We are way better at maintaining these things for our kids then we are for ourselves, but if we’re all happy and healthy, chances of that emotional problem keeping in is going to be less.”

Ways to replace screen time for children

Ways to replace screen time for children

Today, many parents are struggling to curtail screen time and find alternate ways to engage their children. For many, the struggle is being able to coax their children to disengage from the screen.

Now that online schooling has brought screens into the home, the magnet of online games and recreation seems to be consuming the hours of most children.

Ironically, for parents the screen is an easy tool at their disposal that offers them moments of respite, but the addiction to screens by young children is not what most had bargained for. Most parents and caretakers are aware that children shouldn’t be given easy access to technology at such a young age. Yet, we are all guilty of doing so because we need to multitask, we are tired, and because children simply love it. It’s surprising to see that two-year-olds today can operate a smartphone probably better than I can.

Yet, despite how easy it might be to hand that gadget to your child, I’ll state the obvious – screen time for children isn’t right at all. Research from the Indian Academy of Pediatrics points out that children below the age of two years should not be exposed to any type of screen with the exception of occasional video calls with relatives. For children between the age of two and five years, screen time should not exceed one hour, though the lesser, the better. For ages higher than five, screen time should never come at the cost of any other activity crucial for development such as physical activity, sleep, school work, eating etc.

Further, increased time on phones and tablets also means less time spent with others. This comes at the cost of slowing down and hindering the development of language skills, social and interpersonal skills that develop the much needed ability to feel compassion and empathy.

Sadly, it can also cause isolation at a young age, leading to issues like increased anxiety and even depression in the future.

Hence, despite the fact that we might be proud of our child quickly grasping their command over technology or learning rhymes through YouTube, screen time for kids, beyond school, must be minimised and discouraged.

Prior to the technological age, children enjoyed childhood in the true sense of the word. A childhood that had them use their imagination to create games, find friends to play with and be in touch with the outdoors – all tools necessary to sculpt children into wholesome, confident and social beings with a real sense of their world.

While we have identified the problem, I would like to focus on some possible alternatives to engage our children.

Start with […]

Six ways to help kids regain a sense of purpose

Six ways to help kids regain a sense of purpose

When the pandemic prevented a young aspiring cartoonist from attending art camp last summer, she was devastated. But when her mother told her she could go this year, the 12-year-old balked. “I’ll just stay home,” she shrugged. “They’ll probably have to shut down again.” Although some children will dive into school and activities with enthusiasm as the pandemic lets up thanks to an increase in vaccinations, others will be more guarded.

“We’re wanting a child to run, but in my view, children almost need to walk again in terms of negotiating life,” said professor emerita at Teachers College at Columbia University Suniya Luthar, and co-founder of Authentic Connections, an organisation devoted to fostering resilience. “We need to ensure they’re not unhappy, distressed or nervous about meeting friends before we can expect them to get passionate about the saxophone again.”

With time and targetted support, even the most apprehensive child can once again experience full and joyful engagement. Here are six ways parents and caregivers can ease kids back into life and help them regain a sense of purpose.


Children may feel both overwhelmed and underwhelmed by the idea of resuming a more structured routine as life begins to re-open. “A certain amount of inertia can set in after being in this state of paralysis,” said psychologist and professor at the University of Arkansas Tim Cavell.

Start by determining where a child is right now, then come up with a realistic transition plan, said psychologist with the Montefiore Health System in New York Ryan DeLapp.

Ask questions such as, “What are the emotions you’re having right now?” “What are your expectations?” and “Where do you expect your comfort level to be in the next month if you just stick it out and give it your best shot?”

Once children have a plan in place, assess their progress weekly. If they continue to be anxious, avoidant, flat or discouraged, they may need support from a mental health professional. But things could go better than expected.


Children may resist making plans, because life has been unpredictable, and they don’t want to risk disappointment. As Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind and author of 13 Things Strong Kids Do: Think Big, Feel Good, Act Brave, Amy Morin said, “the rules have changed 800 times, and there’s no guarantee that anyone will be able to do something”.

Model cautious optimism, and let your child see you push yourself. “It might just be that you’re getting coffee with a friend, and say, ‘I was looking forward to this, but now that it’s here, it feels weird and I’m nervous’,” Morin said. Afterward, you can tell your child, “You know, that was more fun than I thought it would be.”

To foster hope, give children the gift of anticipation. Ask them what they’ve missed or what they look forward to doing, then design an activity around their interests. Plan something you believe can happen, then talk about it regularly to build excitement. My 13-year-old son loves baseball and wants to see the Washington Nationals play again, for example, so we bought tickets to attend a game after he’s vaccinated.

Nationwide study says one in two children suffers from anxiety

Nationwide study says one in two children suffers from anxiety

24% of youths said they had received unwanted or nasty emails, texts or messages intended to hurt them A survey by leading psychiatrists among 755 children and youths aged five-16 has identified a staggering 62% being at risk of emotional problems and a host of issues which fell short of a mental disorder.

In a first-of-its-kind assessment of Maltese childhood and adolescence, psychiatric registrar Rosemarie Sacco said more youths need healthy coping mechanisms that can help them deal with challenging situations that will serve them into adulthood.

“We don’t want adolescents to grow up not being able to handle touch situations – we want the next generation to be capable of regulating their emotions effectively,” Sacco said.

The study was conducted by the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health and the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector, searching for the prevalence of mental disorders among Maltese children and adolescents, supervised by Dr Nigel Camilleri. A second phase of the study will be completed by 2022.

In what are the results for the first phase of the study, the study found that 60% were unlikely to have a mental disorder.

But the survey found that 23% of 5-10-year-olds and 39% of 11-16-year-olds were at risk of emotional problems; likewise, 27% of 5-10-year-olds and 27% of 11-16-year-olds were likely to have hyperactivity problems, and 23% of 5-10-year-olds and 26% 11-16 year-olds were likely to ave anxiety problems.

Sacco explained that some youths don’t score high enough to be classified with a specific disorder. However, these youths still have problems that will follow them into adulthood if not resolved. “These issues could affect school, and eventually work and in extreme cases can lead to unemployment,” Sacco said.

The study also touches base on how aware parents are of these issues in youths.

It found that 17% of parents had reported problems with them functioning as a family.

Breaking that down further, only 11% of parents said they were very concerned with bullying. 6% said they were very concerned with social media-related problems, 1% said they were very concerned with alcohol and substance abuse problems, and 0% said they were very concerned with problems related to self-harm.

Sacco highlighted that internationally, at least 50% of youths who reach the threshold to be diagnosed with a mental disorder are not. This figure could be higher for youths who do not meet the threshold.

“Not enough parents and teachers are recognising that youths are not coping – this results in them not being diagnosed.“This is why more awareness needs to be raised because there are youths who don’t reach the threshold yet are still suffering and not being given healthy mechanisms for later on in life,” she said.Sacco added that this extends to GPs: she […]

How to help your child socialise after the pandemic

How to help your child socialise after the pandemic

A friend shared the feelings of her toddler as she took him out to a park recently for the first time since April of this year. The child expressed sheer joy as he explored and played outdoors. It was difficult to have him leave the park to come back home. He laughed and kissed both his parents because he was so happy to be out.

This small incident deeply reflected the need for all children to be playing outdoors and preferably with other children, something that feels like a luxury today as a result of the pandemic. This crisis has had a considerable impact on children’s emotional and mental health.

Many parents report that their child is afraid to go out after the pandemic. They are hesitant to go to places they once willingly went to. For some parents, getting their children to visit their friend’s or grandparents’ home seems like a struggle. Many young children are exhibiting more clingy and insecure behaviour.

We know young children need to socialise and play with other children. This is how they learn to interact, share their thoughts, develop language and make meaning of their world. Most importantly, playing with others is a joyful experience.

Instead, for many children, the pandemic has restrained them to mostly being around adults. Furthermore, with increased screen time, children have not been able to develop some key skills that play and interaction with others can naturally help develop.

As an educator with four decades of experience, I continue to observe that for young children playing or socialising isn’t separate from learning. In fact, it is learning. It is the best way for children to develop self-confidence, interpersonal skills, and a problem-solving mindset.

So, as parents and teachers of young children, how can we ease this quintessential socialisation process for our children? Here are a few ways:

Observe your child

The first thing all parents must do is observe their children in order to notice any signs of distress or any unusual behaviour. This could include clinging to you (the parent) more frequently, making excuses to avoid stepping out of the house, being quieter than usual, etc. To help our children, we first need to understand what could be going on with them even if they are unable to voice it.

Acknowledge their emotions

Children, like adults, can also experience stress and anxiety. We often downplay children’s emotions or consider them trivial in comparison to ours. That should never be the case. Children need to be seen and heard. To do so, parents should genuinely make time to talk to the child and understand cues. Then, we must acknowledge their emotions in a manner like: I understand you must be feeling sad because you are missing playing with your friends. Would it help if I played with you?

Be honest with them