Plenty has been written on the long term impact that the Covid-19 induced lockdown is having on children’s education. In this piece, a doctor who in New York who is also a mother of four children, talks about the psychological impact of the lockdown on children. In the initial months of the lockdown: “my kids managed. They were frustrated; they were on screens for far too many hours a day, and in the sunshine for far too few. But they were game; they were helpful; they were, generally, loving to one another.”
However, as the lockdown wore on things changes. In Mumbai, as we enter the fifth month of the lockdown, many parents will identify with what this NYC based doctor has to say about her children: “Although things in the hospital were getting less terrifying, in my house they were getting harder as school receded further and further away. My older kids became withdrawn, more frequently angry. I couldn’t get my formerly chatty 9-year-old to talk at the dinner table. All my kids started having trouble sleeping. Having a 5-year old and an 11-year old wandering aimlessly and miserably around the kitchen at 2 a.m wasn’t unusual for me. I consulted our pediatrician. I bought some melatonin, and then some more, and now I buy it every month. I hate every part of that.
…My social-media feed is full of worried friends. One posted about the aggression she’s seeing between her kids: They used to play nicely, and now they can’t really be left alone in a room together without drawing blood. Another was searching for help with bed-wetting, in a kid who had been toilet trained four years previously. Others chimed in about their tweens and teens disappearing into their room for hours, or days, turning difficult to extract and extremely closemouthed.”
The reasons for this disturbed behaviour are not hard to guess: “School, for some kids, is a basic, important place: It is their source of food, or where no adult hits them, or where they find reliable heat in the winter.
But even for children whose needs are less physical, school is often their entire external world. It is a place where their relationships are not dependent on their parents, where they try and fail and then try and succeed. School is where they make friends and mortal enemies and friends again. School is where my children are not my daughter or son; they are themselves, figuring out who that is every day.
I am not a developmental psychologist; I’m just a mom. But it has always seemed to me that headlong, unstoppable forward development is the normal state of a growing child. In the same way that a shark that is alive must swim, a child who is alive needs to be in a constant state of movement and change. When the forward motion stops, something is very wrong.”
Like parents the world over, the author does not see how things can be turned around for children unless school re-opens in the coming months. She then says that the authorities will now have to make a big call: do they prioritise the re-opening the schools over, say, the re-opening of bars & restaurants? In many parts of India, the authorities have already made that call and it does not take a financial guru to figure out which way that call went: “We could fix it, you know. We could shut things down, and wear masks, and get enough tests to contact trace and isolate people—if we all worked together, the whole country, united in our goal of giving children what they need. If we did that, we could probably open schools in a few months, in person, safely. We would have to choose schools over bars; we’d have to think big.”

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