COVID-19: School closures and the impact on socialization

School closures related to the current COVID-19 pandemic affects the development of children of all ages. Face-to-face learning plays a crucial role in socialization which is important for healthy development. Evidence increasingly indicates that the lockdown and restrictions has had a significant impact on the education, well-being, and mental health of children. These impacts are hypothesized to be long-term. Additionally, adverse psychological factors may in turn have a detrimental effect on learning and socialization.

School closures can influence a child’s sense of belonging to school, feelings of self-worth and feelings of loneliness, which are key for inclusion in education. Loneliness can be viewed as detrimental as smoking and obesity. Recent research indicates that young people could be at risk for social isolation. The increase in social isolation and loneliness is linked to mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal behaviors. Children who are confined at home with their parents due to COVID-19 may feel more stressed and anxious.

The new way children interact

School environment provides achievement through peer effects. Being in a school and classroom setting gives the opportunity to interact with fellow classmates and produces important positive social skills for personal and future growth. A lot of learning occurs from peers through social influence, competition, modeling and vicarious learning. This stirs up motivation for achievement and interest in unpreferred subjects. Classroom activities, interaction with teachers and other students are found to be essential for the development of positive self-esteem, self-confidence and in building a sense of identity. Additionally, it improves students’ abilities to work in groups collaboratively through problem solving. Evidence shows that socialization is positively associated with cognitive skills and school achievement. The recent restrictions in school attendance could potentially impact self-control, social competence abilities, logical reasoning and deduction, among many other cognitive abilities.

Virtual learning platforms provide some socialization opportunities, such as class-based interaction and communication, online clubs, digital interactive platforms to assess children’s performance. This helps to eliminate some social barriers, allowing them to be more expressive and reducing the fear of public speaking and social pressure. This helps children to continue with learning while being disrupted by school closures. Reliable internet connection, parental involvement is important for successful virtual learning. This may put pressure and stress on parents.

The KEYS to help us through:

Keep communication and expectations clear and concise within the family. As parents, we can be a role model for learning to cope and modelling ways to alleviate some of the stress caused by school closures. Mentor instead of over monitoring. Set realistic expectations and ask questions through out this process, establish weekly family or friendly rituals to harness their social interest and socialization.

Encourage playdates and hangouts with peers. School closures limit peer interactions, hence playdates and hangouts would provide opportunities to reduce feelings of loneliness and social barriers.

Y Not take a break from screen time and reflect! Check in regularly with children about their feelings and discuss any anxieties to help process their thoughts and emotions. As children become easily irritable and anxious, they require emotional support to address their needs.

Small group learning. This will help to lessen the stress of learning alone, reduce uncertainty, increase focus, and reduce the demand on parents’ being their teachers. Small group learning may promote motivation, competition and interaction important for social development.

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Topics: COVID-19, Mental Health, Paediatrics

Neelam Hiranandani

Neelam Hiranandani

Neelam is a qualified, experienced Counselling Psychologist endorsed by the Hong Kong Psychological Association. She graduated in Hong Kong with a Bachelor in Social Sciences with Hons in Psychology and a Master in Social Sciences in Counselling Psychology. Neelam completed her clinical training in Hong Kong including providing therapy and conducting psychological assessments under intensive supervision. She is also a Registered Behavior Technician endorsed by BACB.

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