Psychologists warn of social anxiety in parents and kids if schools stay closed

Primary school children might lose their grasp of social skills if they are unable to attend class for an extended period of time, says a child psychologist.

PETALING JAYA: Child psychologists have warned of the possible development of social anxiety in both children and parents as what was meant to be a two-week school break approaches its third month amid continuing measures to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Dr Hanina Hamsam from Universiti Putra Malaysia said primary school children might lose their grasp of social skills if they are unable to attend class and are instead cooped up indoors for an extended period of time.

While many schools have implemented online lessons, she said there is a difference between online interactions and studying in physical classrooms.

For one, she said, studying online could require more discipline.

“Some children might not have access to the internet due to poor bandwidth or substandard equipment,” she added.

Parents, too, would not be spared as many have been forced to monitor their children’s lessons and provide assistance where needed which requires time and patience.

Hanina added that many have been working from home since the movement control order took effect on March 18.

“It’s tough to handle children, especially young ones,” she said.

“Some parents also lost their jobs during this time, and being at home with their kids all the time is a new stress that they are learning to cope with.”

Earlier, FMT reported that the interruption in schooling which began on March 14 could continue until next year for most students.

A source close to discussions on the reopening of schools nationwide said only secondary school students facing critical examinations could see a return to physical classrooms.

Hanina said the situation would be especially difficult for those in public housing where space is often a scare commodity.

She suggested that public housing committees allow school-going children to use their community halls for online studies, subject to the appropriate standard operating procedures (SOPs).

“Some low-cost flats house up to 10,000 people,” she said.

“It’s cramped, and with children not going to school for a long period of time, there will be a lot of stress and problems.”

She said another option would be to open schools on a rotation basis where children attend classes on different days.

“The education ministry could start off with the senior students going to school once or twice a week to learn the new norms.”

After that, she said, junior students could join in.

Lihanna Borhan from International Islamic University Malaysia said children might experience a loss in self-esteem if they felt they were not achieving anything, as they might if schools remain closed for the long term.

In order to combat this, and to prevent a reduction in social skills, she advised parents to keep their children away from gadgets as much as possible and to instead occupy them with activities such as storytelling and cooking.

“Engage the child,” she told FMT. “It’s not just about talking or sitting with them to finish their homework. There have to be supplementary activities.”

National Parent-Teacher Associations Consultative Council president Ali Hassan meanwhile urged the education ministry to draw up a proper curriculum for online learning.

He too agreed that students could adopt a staggered approach to schooling, with the more senior pupils attending first followed by the juniors.

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