Are you or your kids getting the back-to-school jitters?

Schools are set to resume from 2 June 2020. In an informal straw poll conducted by members of a pre-school parenting group – asking whether parents would send their children to school or keep them at home – over 200 (about half of the 435 who responded) said that they would send their child to school to encourage social interaction.

On the contrary, close to 50 parents preferred to keep their children at home.

A back to school Singapore informal straw poll
Image source: Facebook

Of course, these are parents of pre-schoolers, and they have the option of keeping their children at home. The question they face is a different challenge from parents of those with older kids.

School is in, whether we like it or not, so what are the ways of coping with this part of the new normal and how do we talk to our children about it?

Going back is good

Although the younger generation seem to be less affected by the circuit breaker, and more attuned to using technology to connect with others, some may become socially isolated without even realising it.

The absence of social relationships and behaviours have been shown to affect adolescent and child development in various ways. Socially isolated children tend to have lower educational achievements and lower quality of life from the potential harm of physiological illness due to stress, cognitive impairment, and feelings of loneliness.

As parents, where do we draw the line between prioritising the physical well-being of our child over their mental health?

Well-being of our child when they are back to school in Singapore
Image source: Shutterstock / Littlekidmoment

Ms Jeannette Teo, a 44-year-old single mother, told The Pride that she is thankful that her son, Ethan, who is in Secondary 1, will be resuming his classes when school reopens. She said: “I actually feel relieved for him. Ethan is quite a conscientious boy and prefers to be in the school environment where he can learn and ask questions. Something he feels is inadequate now via home-based learning.

“I’m actually not concerned about the virus. I’m also assured that the school will take all precautionary measures to ensure safe distancing, hygiene and sanitization,” she added.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has released a set of guidelines to ensure the safety of its students and staff. Face shields and hand sanitizers will also be distributed to pre-school, primary, secondary, special education and junior college students.

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50-year-old Ms Dorcas Lim, whose 18-year-old son attends ITE College West, is realistic about the challenges of going back to school. She said: “My son is in the Electrical Engineering course, so there is a lot of practical lab work that can only be done in school. I think it’s okay for him to return to school. He’ll just have to wear a mask. I will need to remind him to keep washing his hands and not to share food and drinks with his friends, but I think it will be a bit hard for youths to practice safe distancing with their classmates or friends. They can’t be talking from 1-metre away.”

Attendance of students in MOE kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, pre-universities and special education schools will be staggered on a weekly basis. But it’s trickier for young children who are returning to pre-school to a drastic change in the classroom environment.

But what about the younger ones?

What does it mean for the young ones in Singapore when they are back to school?
Image source: Shutterstock / Jeanette Virginia Goh

A number of parents still prefer to err on the side of caution.

One said: “I would keep him home, I still find it dangerous outside. Plus a toddler wearing a mask the whole day, very poor thing. We, adults, wear mask for 1h also buey ta han (unbearable) already.”

A mother of two told The Pride that she would keep her younger son, who is in nursery, at home as long as she was able to work from home. When the circuit breaker was announced, she kept him at home but continued to send her older boy (who is in Primary 1) to school since home-based learning only started on April 9.

She recounted: “My seven-year-old asked me ‘why do you still send me to school? Why do you do that to me? Do you want me to get Covid-19?’”

Even as we smile at the childlike mix of innocence and indignation of that question, it is a good reminder that our children have feelings and fears too. Just as we parents worry over their health, so do they have concerns too. Don’t brush their questions aside but take the time to explain the decisions that you make. By reassuring them, you may just end up bolstering your own confidence.

Tough love seemed to be a recurring sentiment too, from several responses on the Facebook poll. One parent shared: “I’ll rather put my child in childcare than being stuck at home within four walls for more than 2 months with no friends. The virus is here to stay, whether we like it or not, but life has to go on.”

Others also chimed in.

Virus might not going away anytime soon in Singapore, we need to get used to the new normal, so the kids have to go back to school
Image source: Shutterstock / Titikul_B

“Virus is not going away anytime soon. Gotta get used to the new normal, so going back to school even if I’m a little reluctant.”

“Will send my 3 kids to school in week 2. We have no time to teach them academically and my eldest is going P1 next year. Gotta send them to school to continue learning and studying rather than stay at home and play the whole day. Tough decision, but it’s for their good.”

“Plan to. My children love school. We calm her down by showing her photos of her in school. Technically, pre-school is probably the safest place since all the staff will have been tested. Aside from doctors and those who were sick, not sure who else is tested. Children are infected because of adults they hang out with, not other children. Let’s hope all adults continue to behave properly. The pre-school was already taking temperature 4 times a day, separating them for nap time, washing hands repeatedly, etc. cleaner than my home. Haha. My child hasn’t napped for 2 months being at home.”

The responses may be varied, but there is no right answer on how to cope with the re-opening of schools. As a parent, we will always want the best for our child, whether it means prioritising their physical health over their mental health, or vice versa. Parenting and caregiving in a pandemic can be very stressful. Children pick up on our feelings too, so do pay attention to your own feelings and how you respond to your children.

Although we may be tempted to focus on our younger children, don’t neglect your teenagers too. They may be dealing with different types of stresses, such as lost friendships or worries over not being able to catch up with their studies, especially in important examination years. Though we can’t replace the time they have lost from not attending school, we should not underestimate the power of offering empathy to our teenagers.

Ultimately, you know your child best, so make the decision on your own and don’t feel as if you have to let others dictate to you what’s best for you and your family.

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