Anxiety in children who follow distance learning

The pandemic that started in March last year brought big changes in our lives. The changes included isolation, quarantine and adaptation of jobs and teaching in schools. Due to the drastic changes in everyday life, children and young people faced a number of difficulties. Schools have closed their doors in the last quarter and teaching has shifted to distance learning with a series of adaptations. For children it has become the new normal, and for some it still is. There are schools that still operate with online teaching and there are students who due to poor health stayed at home to attend distance learning.

Distance learning, in addition to the benefits it offers as protecting health and reducing virus transmission, also affects the mental health of students and parents.

How does distance learning affect children’s mental health?

The primary function of the school is education, and the secondary is socialization. Schools offer the opportunity to connect with peers, the opportunity to belong to a group of peers and connect with them. With the onset of distance learning, students have lost these opportunities to connect, peer, and share with their peers on a daily basis. Decreased social interactions in children affect mental health and can be one of the causes of the development of depression and anxiety.

Due to distance learning, the most affected are children who have previously faced instability in the family, domestic violence and poverty. The daily attendance of classes for these children was a way out of the circle of violence and poverty at least for a certain period of the day, as well as learning through the model of an adult teacher.

The stress of distance learning children affects entire families. Parents are not always able to help their children because they are at work at the same time or facing traumatic experiences related to the illness or death of a loved one.

Increased stress and anxiety [1]

Fear is an emotional reaction to a real or perceived danger, while anxiety is the expectation of some danger to occur. Children who experience anxiety often say that they are worried that something bad will happen in the future. Anxiety is a condition that most of us experience at some point in time. It can vary in intensity and duration.

Anxiety is a condition characterized by: anxiety, a feeling of tension and physical sensations (excessive sweating, rapid heartbeat, dizziness and tingling in the arms or legs). In addition, there is decreased concentration, difficulty falling asleep and a feeling of fatigue. If this condition lasts for a long time, and at the same time the difficulties intensify and they hinder the optimal way of functioning and experience of the children, we can say that it is an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety in children increases when there are changes in the environment and daily functioning. Anxiety that occurs when leaving kindergarten or school can serve as an example. Last year, the trigger for the increase in anxiety in children was the change of daily functioning and fear due to the danger of contracting the virus. The presence of anxiety symptoms in children can be noticed through changed behavior and thinking. Symptoms of anxiety in children are most often:

  • Concerns and negative thoughts
  • Irritability and tension
  • Eating Disorders From Rejection To Overeating
  • Sleep disturbance, frequent awakenings and nightmares
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Crying
  • Abdominal pain without an organic basis
  • Headaches
  • Outbursts of rage
  • Uncertainty in new situations

In children attending distance learning, anxiety increases due to increased stress. Stress is caused by increased school responsibilities and lack of socialization. Students may develop a range of symptoms due to inability to cope with bulky material, as well as difficulty concentrating while attending home classes. For some children, talking on camera in front of all other children can be very stressful and can produce panic. During distance learning, the access to the use of additional classes and activities that previously helped the children in mastering the material and achieving higher success is reduced.

Spending a lot of time in front of the screen tires students and they face reduced concentration and oversaturation. Some research confirms that the human brain processes information received through the screen differently and differently live. When there are classes with physical presence, students focus on several aspects such as: verbal stimuli, non-verbal communication, space that is always the same and it helps them to memorize certain information more easily.

How parents can help children with anxiety

  • One way to help is to teach children to recognize the symptoms of anxiety such as: excessive sweating, sweaty hands, rapid heartbeat, excessive crying.
  • It is recommended to talk to the child to help him learn to recognize if he is afraid of something or is worried that something bad will happen.
  • You can try techniques for slowing down breathing and counting out and exhaling (number up to 4 while you inhale and number up to 6 while you exhale)
  • You can look for books or movies that address the topic of anxiety in children and fears, and watch them together and thus normalize your child’s condition.
  • Help the child draw how he / she imagines what he / she experiences as potentially dangerous and scary (eg public speaking, darkness, homework)
  • Let the child know that you believe in him and that he can cope with what he is experiencing
  • If the child has previously experienced anxiety, remind them that it went well and ended well.
  • You can encourage him to seek help from you or seek professional help together.
  • It is desirable to build daily routines such as: time for study, time for rest, relaxation, walk, etc.
  • It is advisable to create an atmosphere at home for learning and reducing distractions, such as TV sounds. When the lesson is over, the computer can be turned off and the next few hours can be spent without a screen.

Recommendations for schools offered by mental health centers around the world are aimed at teaching “soft skills” in schools, in order to mitigate the mental health consequences of distance learning. The term “soft skills” means learning skills that help a student’s personal development, such as empathy and emotional intelligence.

Nadica Skeparoska-Petkovska, Master of Science in Clinical Psychology and psychotherapist from transaction analysis under supervision.

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