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Children in the face of pandemic

Hortensia Fernández Fuentes (Mexico)

To say that this pandemic and the forced confinement have disrupted our lives is an understatement. It has not only been an external turnaround, but also an internal one. It is a fact that our society has been increasingly discharging responsibility for learning and training children in the school system and that little is known about what is happening there; on the other hand, the school, although sometimes concerned, has not taken much care to ensure that families understand and support the school processes. It is not uncommon to see crossfire battles taking place pointing to one sector or another of the country's educational ills.

 

 

Thus, parallel to the pandemic, a crisis has arisen that has revealed the great ignorance that exists, in most cases, of what children do in school, which is often seen as a simple vending machine for accreditation systems or "valid" answers that the adult is waiting to hear. But an unexpected crisis arrives that takes us by surprise and for which nobody was prepared: health risks, people not working and others working twice as much from home, schools closed and family support cancelled due to risk, and children and adolescents at home 24 hours a day!

In this context, a social discourse appears that focuses on the difficulties of adults in this situation, be they economic, operational, health or family dynamics. There are no more memes or jokes about mothers, fathers, teachers and authorities complaining or crossing claims among themselves; however, almost none of the youngsters have been seen complaining about their mother or father, their teachers or the situation they are going through.

It is therefore worth reflecting on whether we have asked ourselves enough about what is happening to children and adolescents, I would say that the answer is clear: in general, reflection on how children live with the pandemic and confinement has been absent; this has only appeared in terms of the problem that, for various reasons, it represents for families to have them at home: solving what they were going to do with them if they could no longer go to school and on top of that they had to attend to their permanent demands and help them do school activities that have often been described as heavy, exaggerated, incomprehensible or unnecessary; above all, when they have had to support them.

No one expects an adult to necessarily remember what he or she studied in primary or secondary school, or how he or she faced the challenge of learning to read and write, but it would be desirable for that same adult to stop and think about why he or she demands that his or her children understand and solve complex problems at a very early age, when he or she cannot do so because it requires analysis and more time or even counseling.

The situation we are living in once again belies the saying that "a son or daughter is born, a father or mother is made"; the reality is that both are born and made in the interaction they establish subject to the influences of the context in which they live; and they are made according to the what, the how, the when, the where, the why and the what for. But it turns out that at this moment everything has been disrupted, particularly the how and the where.

Thus, in this circumstance, in relation to school learning, adults have realized that the online support provided by the SEP or some other platforms or strategies and computer resources are not enough. They have perceived how much support is available in person and have also come across surprises: children and adolescents who face processes and build knowledge each at their own pace and in their own time, with greater or lesser difficulty and who often "know more than they thought, but less than they should".

Essential issues for school work, such as maintaining attention, valuing the understanding they are having (or not) of something that is intended to teach them, respecting rhythms and times, has become for many a chaos that has caused them to enter into crises and generate explosions that sometimes fall into the wrong place.

Before we continue, let's stop for a moment and analyze the place where the pandemic has placed children:

  •     To be limited to a certain space in a permanent way.
  •     The breakdown of their activities in daily life.
  •     The impossibility of being with their peers and sharing intimacy, playtime, doubts and reflections.
  •     Not to have physical approach, always indispensable, especially in early ages.
  •     Being at home all day without being on vacation and seeing the same people all the time.
  •     Not being able to tell anything new about what has been done outside the home, like when they go to school.
  •     The permanent vigilance of their family which is often accompanied by demands and supervision.
  •     The fear that something will happen to them or their family.
  •     The insecurity and uncertainty that the situation generates.
  •     To understand what it means that they function as asymptomatic carriers of the virus and can make others sick without them getting sick, which increases their restrictions to approach, especially with their grandparents who cannot approach, hug or cuddle them.

Trying to generalize the experiences and responses of children to the situation we live in today would be not only uncertain but irresponsible. The realities are very diverse, the conditions, attitudes and ways of living these processes within each family are also plural and sometimes diametrically opposed, even among its own members. Thus, it has become evident that in this situation the way families have dealt with the pandemic and the attitude they take towards it has been crucial.

The fact that the family has been able to control their emotions and concerns by explaining what is happening in the calmest way possible and according to each age group why they have to stay at home, not go to school, change their eating, drinking and hygiene habits and styles, and do school work by modifying their routines but without losing their rhythm, has been essential and has made a very important difference and very contrasting with the condition that the children have had to live when the family has not been able to control the negative feelings such as anger, frustration, anxiety and irritation that can lead them to useless confrontations and power struggles.

Another aspect that has had a social influence is the fact that there are families who dismiss the pandemic and its risks, official information and indications of care, or who have the tendency to feel like a superman or superwoman, thinking that nothing "or little" will happen to them if they go out and live without the necessary precautions.

 

For children and adolescents, it is essential to find the necessary security in their family to feel sheltered, to know that at this time the most important thing is to be together and preserve their health, not to be lived as a burden or a hindrance, also to feel that they have a place in the family and see themselves as useful people in solving small daily problems. In other words, to perceive that they also exist as important protagonists of this story.

This period of confinement has also brought to the surface facets that are unknown to both sides. Even today there are people who do not recognize themselves in the face of the discourse they display, having attitudes that they have always reproached in others or in themselves. Children move to opposite extremes, from abandonment or total neglect by the family, to the fact that they are subject to parental supervision that monitors and/or directs everything they do, restricting their autonomy and generating a feeling of boredom that can lead to crisis.

In this context, how do children and adolescents feel, what have their reactions been? The truth is that few have been asked.

In a small open inquiry with children from three to fifteen years old that was within my reach, I was able to identify several types of answers and some constants that appeared regardless of age, which allows me to draw some conclusions. I share some quotes here, along with the list of what was most repeated.

"All this that is happening is something new to me and has me a little confused as well as sad and angry, because I cannot go out to have fun, walk with my family, or go to school with my friends. But from wherever you are you always learn new things, for example, I have learned to be more tolerant of my family and to be closer than ever. (Sixth grade)

What didn't you like?
 

"Hi, I feel very lonely and I like to do my homework, but sometimes I don't want to, sometimes I get angry, sometimes I laugh and I'm happy, I want to go to school and ride my bike and play with my friends" (Second Preschool)

    Living the financial, work and emotional anxieties of families.
    Having to be at home all day without a vacation, not being able to go out and follow the routine.
    Not being able to see your friends.
    Doing school work sometimes longer and without anyone being able to explain it to them.
    To have their efforts dismissed, criticized and always asked for more and more.

"I feel like going out, I can't stand my parents any more, they tell me all day that I have to work more and play less, they already took my tablet away because of the teacher who is leaving a lot of work, I prefer to go to school". (Third of Primary)

    Not being able to go out in the street or, if they have to, going out in fear.
    Not being able to visit their grandparents and other relatives.
    The restriction of physical approach.
    Having to wear mouth guards and wash their hands constantly.
    Grieving the loss of celebrations.
    Being angry, sad or irritable about the situation.
    Getting bored and not knowing what to do with your free time sometimes.
    Losing the world of school with all that that means.

"I think that during these weeks at home I have realized how much time I spend at school and that many things in my life revolve around it. It's a space that I like to be in and where you can also find many of the things and people that are most important to me and that have made me better as a person. (Third of Secondary)

What do you miss most?

    Playing, talking and working with their friends.
    The world of school, being in their classroom, running in the yard and seeing their teachers.
    Visiting and hugging their grandparents and other relatives.
    Going out in the street, riding a bike or going swimming, running.
    Not being able to celebrate their birthdays, graduations, school farewells, scheduled trips, etc.
    Not being able to play sports or exercise.
    To be more free.

"I would like to know what you have done, I have done many things, but I miss knowing what others have done and how they are, I want to go to school. (First of Primary)

What are your fears?

 "I feel bad, sad, worried, and I need to get out. I have advantages and disadvantages, the truth is, the advantage is that I have a big house and I can see my brothers grow up, my parents are not that old, I am seven and it is very unlikely that I will get Covid. The disadvantage is that my grandparents are old and the truth is that I am very afraid that they might die, although the good thing is that they are taking care of themselves and I hope not, but ... it's like that, life is like that, some die, some live, although we all always have to have an end, then it's also good, but I would not want anyone to die. (Second of Primary)

    Sick or someone you love dies.
    Being a healthy carrier and infecting someone.
    Let the situation continue.
    Not knowing when and how they will return to school, the uncertainty of what it will be like and what might happen.

"I have felt many emotions during the quarantine: joy, anger, displeasure, calm, fear and sadness. Sometimes I feel both at the same time and I have also played more with my sister. (Second of Primary)

What did they like?

"I like the homework my teachers have sent me, I would like the new normal to be with more internal camps and I would also like us to be able to hug with my teacher and all my classmates. (First of Primary)

    Spend more time with your family and get to know each other better.
    Be able to eat together and play board games.
    Have time to do different and creative things.
    Not having to get up so early.
    See what their moms and dads are capable of doing and learn from it.
    Have them appreciate their efforts and what they achieve.
    To be able to play longer and fight less.

"In this quarantine I feel very happy because I know my family is doing well and it has changed the way we get along because we have played more. I miss my grandmother a lot because she lives in Guadalajara and I also miss my classmates, my teachers and school. (Third of Primary)

In the middle of all this, an interesting construction and approach to the tasks of children and adults has been developed, who in some way are also learning from the effort involved in the work of others and the satisfaction of their achievements.

"I've enjoyed learning to make cookies and bake things I didn't know how to do, I'm also learning to play the flute better and my parents are applauding me".  (Fourth of Primary)

"These days we have made a small potted garden and the tomatoes and lettuces have started to come out, I have learned that I can have fun with many more things, before I was bored if I didn't watch TV, but I thought of giving my mom and dad the challenge of doing math puzzles and we are having a lot of fun". (Fifth Grade)

Because, like almost everything in life, this coin has two sides, the perverse part of mourning and loss and the nourishing part of greater knowledge and deeper approach. And in these 80 days, it has been interesting to observe how changes have occurred in people and their relationships. In one way or another, we have all had to resignify and modify our actions and behaviours in the face of these new situations.

Fortunately, not everything has gone wrong. This experience has left positive aspects in us: a closer knowledge among the members of the families, the awareness of our own fragility, the recovery of the value of the time that we assign to each thing, turning to see our ways of eating and consumption.

"These days I've been quiet, I've felt happy because I'm with my parents, I don't like being in the house and I like being in the yard. I miss being at school a lot, I feel happy although I am very restless, I do the work and I have learned a lot but I miss my classmates". (First of Primary)

How can we take advantage of it? By valuing what girls and boys are capable of doing, promoting permanent mechanisms of hygiene and self-care in the whole family, remembering how important we are for the healthy growth of our children, establishing the necessary limits and avoiding unnecessary conflicts.

It should be said here that it is very helpful to process this time through play, whether it is representational or other games, especially in the youngest children, who cannot intellectually elaborate on everything that is happening. This will also have to be done when they return to school.

"I am the colavilus! Muahaha, don't wash your hands!" (Nursery)

It is important to recognize the substantial value of the school in all its extension, to think about all that it implies and, of course, to create greater planetary and citizen conscience through a solidary and committed action with the environment in the daily facts, every day.

As teachers, we have a challenge in front of us that is the size of the world: the return to school in this new reality. All of us, family and school, have a lot to wait for and learn, but we must not stop seeing the eyes of the children or forget the lessons that this experience is leaving us, the changes that we must make in the personal and social to end the environmental devastation and social inequality and injustice, so what if we all take advantage of such misfortune?

 * hortensiafernandezfuentes@gmail.com

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