An expert is warning that the various lockdowns and health measures which have closed schools and kept children at home with their parents for months now could give rise to separation anxiety once face-to-face classes resume.
Suriati Sidek, a senior psychology lecturer at the International Islamic University Malaysia, said separation anxiety could cause children to feel anxious and worried when away from their parents or those close with them.
She added that children do not know how to express their feelings of fear in such situations.
“Imagine being a young child left with people who are new and strange – of course this will cause anxiety,” she told MalaysiaNow.
She said children who experience separation anxiety might express their emotions through their behaviour, by crying or throwing a tantrum, and holding on to their parents.
“But parents should not worry,” she added. “Separation anxiety is a normal milestone in children’s development.”
For much of the year, pupils have had to follow their lessons from home through online teaching and learning as measures to keep Covid-19 infections at bay keep schools closed except to exam candidates.
“Imagine being a young child left with people who are new and strange – of course this will cause anxiety.”
Schools under the education ministry are expected to resume face-to-face classes in September.
While parents can anticipate some level of separation anxiety in their children, Suriati said students with extreme behaviour arising from such emotions should be referred to specialists.
She said separation anxiety has a bigger effect on children below the age of two, who still need the presence of their parents for their social and emotional development.
The likelihood of cases occurring once schools reopen is smaller for children aged seven to 12, she added.
“Parents can tell their children frequently and in simple words that the lockdown situation is temporary and that they will soon return to kindergarten, preschool or school.
“Parents who are working should also explain to their children that they too need to go back to the office,” she said.
With constant explanations such as these, she said, children would eventually accept the situation.
“This information will to some extent reduce feelings of separation anxiety as children will be more prepared,” she said.
Suriati said teachers also have an important role to play in helping children handle separation anxiety by allowing them time to adjust.
She suggested that teachers begin with bonding activities, particularly for young children at kindergartens and daycares.
“For those at school, teachers could start the class by chatting with the students for a while, asking them what they did at home throughout the lockdown, before beginning with the lessons themselves.”
She said it was important to remember that children’s psychological condition and social skills were also affected by the closure of schools.
But she urged parents not to worry too much about their children’s performance.
“Don’t stress too much on academic progress as a yardstick for your children’s development during this pandemic time because the environment at home is very different from the environment at school,” she said.
“And don’t invite more stress. Remember, we need to tackle not only the emotions of our children who have been at home for a long time, but our emotions as well.”