Currently, there are over 1.2 billion children around the globe that are out of the classroom, opting for online kindergarten and are studying online – Malaysia is no exception.
As part of our Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), all educational institutions, including all preschools and childcare centres, are to remain closed until the last school session while receiving their education through home-based learning.
With cases of infection still rising, it is uncertain when students will be returning to their classrooms. Incidentally, this situation has taken a toll on our children’s mental health.
According to a study poll conducted by the Gallup:
In May 2020, 3 out of 10 kids were already experiencing emotional and mental harm because of social distancing, while 14% of these kids were just about to reach this stage.
Your child will likely continue online learning in 2021, and there is a great chance that this will worsen their mental distress.
How can you help your child maintain their mental health during online classes?
The Emotional Toll of Online Education
These are trying times for everyone from all over the world; for children, parents and educators alike
Preschoolers, in particular, are struggling to cope with this change in their routine. Much of their learning experiences before were all about hands-on learning, exploration, and play.
With most online kindergartens in Malaysia running online-based classes, children are now receiving lessons from behind a computer screen as opposed to face-to-face instructions.
And you know your children can’t sit still and pay attention.
Interaction in real life and online are very different. Even in video calls, it is hard to read the little nuances in facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice that comes with face-to-face communication.
This is what people are now starting to recognise as Zoom fatigue.
Because of this, preschoolers would feel more distant from their friends and teachers. And according to Gallup’s study:
45% parent indicate that the cause of children’s poor mental state is the separation of children from peers and teachers
While online classes don’t normally cause the following events, we are currently in a situation that prevents us from stepping out of our house. Hence, after a while, your child may feel isolated and depressed from the lack of human interaction with children their age.
Online classes can also disconnect young children from nature, play and people – including family members in the same household. This is because screen time can take up quality family time if it is not regulated.
They also can’t participate in engaging, active activities or interact with their peers as often as they usually do in classrooms.
The disconnect between reality and the online world known as Nature-Deficit Disorder.
In his 2008 book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv highlights the urgent problem that many of us parents knew was growing but had no language to describe it:
“Our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature. That lesson is delivered in schools, families, even organizations devoted to the outdoors, and codified into the legal and regulatory structures of many of our communities. Our institutions, urban/suburban design, and cultural attitudes unconsciously associate nature with doom—while disassociating the outdoors from joy and solitude. Well-meaning public-school systems, media, and parents are effectively scaring children straight out of the woods and fields.”
As a result, they may have difficulty distinguishing the line between reality and the online world, have low self-esteem and a lack of social skills.
What Signs Should I Look Out for?
Let us be clear on this: we are looking for signs of mental distress, not mental disabilities, illnesses or disorders.
We are not psychiatrists, and neither are you.
But you can identify the signs of mental distress within your child and do something about it. Here are the signs you should look out for.
- Refusal to participate in class
- Poor grades despite strong efforts
- Trouble concentrating in class
- Frequently daydreaming during class
- Declined school performance
- Loneliness and rejection
- A sense of hopelessness
- Overwhelming sadness
- Regularly experiencing anxiety or nervousness
- Frequent negative thoughts
- Headache, tummy ache, neck pain, and other general aches
- A lack of energy
- Eating and sleeping problems
- Too much energy or nervous habits (bouncing the leg, chewing on fingernails etc.)
- Being quieter and less energetic than usual
- Trouble sleeping or relaxing
- Crying easily
- Overreacting to smaller things
- Choosing to be alone
- Trouble getting along with friends
Take note that some signs listed can also be the results of other issues or the child’s personality and behaviour.
If your child is facing mental distress, they would be displaying more than half the symptoms from all categories.
Is Exposure to Screens Causing My Child Mental Distress?
With many preschools turning to online teaching, many kids are now having more screen time than ever. And as parents, we can’t help but wonder what the impact will be.
Nicholas J. Westers, a clinical psychologist at Children’s Health says the answer isn’t a clear-cut yes or no.
“We want answers and explanations, so it’s easy to blame feelings of sadness, hopelessness and anxiety among teens to increased tech use, but it’s rarely just one culprit”
According to this study, it is the content that matters. There is no single effect of eating food, there is also no single effect of watching television or playing video games.
“Different foods contain different chemical components and thus lead to different physiological effects; different kinds of media have different content, task requirements, and attentional demands and thus lead to different behavioural effects.”
In other words, online learning is simply another medium that can be influenced by several factors. It can be either good or bad depending on how we use it.
Online learning and technology have provided its benefits: it has provided an educational solution for COVID-19, greatly improved children’s technological skills, and allowed parents to see how their children perform in class.
However, excessive technology has shown to have negative impacts on children’s mental health.
Some studies, like this one, explore the effects of home computer consumption on children’s physical, cognitive, and social development.
“Initial research suggests, for example, that access to computers increases the total amount of time children spend in front of a television or computer screen at the expense of other activities, thereby putting them at risk for obesity.”
The survey data in the study also indicates that increased use of the internet may be linked to increases in loneliness and depression.
According to Colleen Peters Halupa’s research, children in early childhood are put in a vulnerable state when they look at screens. Because they absorb information like a sponge, they will make neural connections based on what they see.
If children form neural connections that are not preferred through screen-time, there will be long-term effects in brain function and behaviour.
For example, excessive screen-time can reduce your child’s sense of time and concentration due to the timeless nature of the online experience.
Your child may also become impulsive without planning things because the immediate response of internet connection conditions them to reduce their attention span and patience.
Excessive screen time can lead to the underdevelopment of soft skills for young children because online learning is not the ideal setting to develop soft skills. This includes:
- Social cues
- Strategic thinking.
The best you can do now is to help your kids strike a balance between screen time and the real world.
- Infants (less than 1 year) shouldn’t be given any screen time at all.
- Children 1-2 years of age shouldn’t have any more than an hour of screen time.
- Children 3-4 years of age shouldn’t have any more than an hour of screen time.
The goal behind these guidelines is to provide recommendations on the amount of time that young children, under 5 years of age, should spend on screens and encourage more physical activities and sleep.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to screen time because we all have different family lifestyles.
But either way, make sure to set clear boundaries, log off and find a healthy balance that’s ideally suited to your family.
5 Ways You Can Improve Your Child’s Mental Health
With online learning, parents have to learn to manage their child’s academics and their jobs both at the same time.
Even within your full-time job, there are many actionable ways you can do during your spare time that will cheer your little ones up.
1 – More Green Time and Less Screen Time
According to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, less screen time and more green time are associated with better psychological outcomes among children and adolescents.
In other words, children had better health when they spent more time in nature.
There are many positive outcomes of more green time. It can help boost our health in many ways, such as:
- increase physical activity
- facilitate social connections
- regulate circadian rhythm because of the exposure to sunlight
- reduce stress and improve sleep
- boost cognitive function and concentration
Set up a clear schedule that includes enough time to sleep, eat and exercise between studies for your children to follow. You should also regulate their use of screens outside of class.
By having a regular routine, your child will feel at ease with a familiar pattern and have a healthy balance between green time and screen time.
2 – Creating a Safe Environment
The internet can be a wonderful place to learn not only for kids but also for parents.
Parents can use it to stay up-to-date on the news. While for kids, the internet is a magical entity capable of answering all sorts of questions. They can use it to research for school projects and communicate with their friends.
The internet can also be a very dangerous place.
As parents, it’s our responsibility to make sure that our child stays safe online.
For this reason, parents must be well educated on the internet and computer use to understand the dangers online such as scammers, hackers and child predators.
Pay attention to what they do online and monitor their online activities. Take note of what they’re watching on the internet and cross-check the program they’re watching with Common Sense Media.
Common Sense Media is a website that rates movies, TV shows and books so parents like us can feel good about the entertainment choices we make for our kids.
Finally, make sure the child-protection filter is turned on for your child’s device to remove any explicit or inappropriate results from their search bars. Whatever your child searches up can impact their perception and development.
3 – Assure Your Child with Love and Open Acceptance
Sometimes, when we are exposed to all the bad scenarios, it’s hard to recognise the good ones. And with social distancing bringing in loneliness, it’s hard for your kids to remember that they are loved.
They may also feel like they’re not performing well at preschool because of how difficult it is for them to learn online.
Whenever you can, remind your child of your love and acceptance by praising them and recognising their efforts. This will give them the motivation needed to press on with their studies.
You should also take opportunities to observe and talk to your children during mealtimes to see how they are doing. Actively engage with them by asking questions about their interests and school activities. Your child will feel appreciated and happy.
That being said, you should care for your mental health too. Your child needs to depend on a strong, familial role model so that they will feel comfortable enough to open up to you.
4 – Solve Problems Together
Your child is smarter and more determined than you think. If they are facing a problem, they want to know how to solve it themselves.
Don’t hide the fact that they are facing mental distress or say that you will fix the problem for them. That makes them too dependent on you.
Instead, talk with your child about their feelings. Some questions you can ask are:
- What do you feel about this problem?
- What do you want? ? What is their objective?
- What can you do? ? How can they solve the problem?
As you talk to them, discuss with your child and guide them towards possible solutions and realistic goals that they can achieve.
For example, you can teach them calming exercises such as deep breathing techniques and go on a walk.
Discussing the problem with your children rather than telling them how to solve the problem will not only resolve their mental distress but it will also build their self-confidence, independence and problem-solving skills.
5 – Set Online Playdates for Your Child and Their Peers
Who says they can’t interact with their peers during MCO?
Since your children don’t often get opportunities to interact within class time, get in contact with parents and set a zoom online playdate for your kids outside of class time.
To get things started, you can also plan zoom game activities or play around with the zoom features.
Your child’s mental state will improve drastically if they can interact with other children their age more frequently as they won’t feel lonely anymore.
While you do need to be mindful about the screen time, having a few extra minutes for your child to talk to their friends will be worth it.
Your child is facing mental distress caused by COVID-19 like all of us. Since children are fresh to the world, they have yet to find ways to handle their mental health and emotions.
You, as a parent, are also teachers in your own home, now more than ever. By keeping a caring, careful eye on your child’s mental state and teaching them these actionable strategies, your child will be smiling even in these trying times.
At Q-dees, we work hard to replicate the classroom experience a child receives in the online classes and supplementary study materials we provide. Inquire about our online preschool and see if it fits your child.