Friday, 3 September 2021

Your Wealth — Fulltime, face-to-face learning is back

The Beginning

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YOUR BACK TO SCHOOL POST-COVID GUIDE

This is, arguably, the most disorienting back to school season yet: After more than a year of online/ blended learning, covid-19 disruptions and lockdowns, kids are finally returning to school this fall. But the readjustment may be easier for some children than others. While playground time, bus rides, and school trips have surely been missed, some aspects of in-person learning may be hard for kids to get back into, and the daily schedule of classes and commutes after such a long hiatus could come as a shock to some kids.

In this month’s issue of Your Wealth, we unpack some roadbumps that may arise as children go back to learning and socializing together on a daily basis, and address how parents can make this transition easier for their kids, and themselves.

HOW TO TALK TO YOUR CHILD ABOUT SOCIAL DISTANCING

Social distancing is becoming trickier than ever because let’s face it — a lot of us have just dropped the idea altogether. So how do you go about explaining to your kid how to dodge hugs while other people are sharing the love? Or worse, how should your child stop sharing anything when you’ve been instilling the idea that sharing is caring for so long? Even without the changing rules, it can be hard, especially for younger kids, to understand what they need to do and why it’s necessary.

Social distancing 101: First things first, as much as social distancing is important, just one year ago the rules were totally different from what they are today, so the trick is to stay relevant and adaptable. Despite the shifting rules — and the public’s appetite for them — the core principles of social distancing pretty much remain the same. Students, teachers, and staff must wear masks at all times, and anyone displaying covid symptoms must stay at home and get tested. US health authorities are now supporting in-person learning but recommend that students be kept at least three feet away from each other. Schools are obliged to enforce those guidelines and teachers must ensure their students are up-to-date with any new rules.

Practice makes perfect: It’s not all down to the schools though: parents should also ensure that their children are aware of what they will need to do when they return to the classroom. Why not try helping your child practice social distancing with their toys? When they’re too close to their toys, they’re in the “hot” zone and thus you should tell them phrases that they can remember whenever they’re around other people. You can also teach them what three feet actually looks like by making them visualize the distance via a measuring tape. Hold one end and let your child hold the other; you can make a game out of it by guessing the correct distance.

Play is an effective way for children to wrap their heads around social distancing: Play is essential for a child’s development and could therefore be an effective tool in teaching your children the essence of social distancing, whether it’s through a sing-along of the Lego Movie’s Hands, Elbows, Face and Space or a game that is designed to teach children the importance of social distancing such as “Can You Save the World?.”

Storytelling for the younglings: Stories grab children’s attention; make sure to use simple and compelling language for children to convey the concept of social distancing. You can download a podcast of “My Hero is You,” a children’s book created by the UN and other agencies about a girl named Sara who rides a winged creature named Ario to educate other children about social distancing. Or you can let their imagination run wild by telling them an original bedtime story about social distancing before sleep.

A more scientific approach for the older kids: If your child’s a bit older, you don’t actually have to treat them like kids. On the contrary, a more scientific approach — one that is used for grownups — is more effective. For the visual learners, this video is a compelling explainer for kids who enjoy science, engineering and art activities in an easy-to-understand format about social distancing.

The misconception about social distancing: While the term “social distancing” has been used colloquially, it is important that children understand the difference between social and physical distancing, USA Today points out. The phrase shouldn’t mean that there’s a social barrier between people, so it’s the parents’ role to encourage their children to engage in more social activities now than ever — while maintaining social distancing, of course.

HOW TO TALK TO YOUR CHILD ABOUT BULLYING

For some kids, back to school could mean back to bullying: Though many children are looking forward to being able to socialize, play and learn in person, having large groups of children in close proximity every day puts your child at risk of being bullied.

To set things straight, what exactly is bullying/cyberbullying? Bullying does not always mean physical violence; it can range from verbal aggression to social exclusion and can have dire consequences on a child’s well-being. More often than not, bullying is repeated on a daily basis. This is especially true when the aggression is carried out online (i.e. cyberbullying); it becomes permanent as hurtful posts and comments can’t be erased and are open for everyone to see.

Why do kids bully each other? Bullying has a variety of causes including attention-seeking, jealousy, lack of emotional and psychological security and/or the pursuit of popularity. Bullies have often been victims of bullying themselves and are looking to climb the social ladder by pushing others down.

But surely it’s not that common, right? Unfortunately, bullying is very common in schools all around the world. A third of school children have reported experiencing bullying, according to Unesco. Furthermore, the numbers in Egypt seem to be way higher with 70% of children aged 13-15 being victims of bullying, Hala Abu Khatwa, head of communication at Unicef Egypt, told Egypt Today.

So how can it be prevented? Having an open and an honest conversation with your child about bullying is essential. First, talk to them to make sure they understand what bullying is. Second, try to be a role model by showing kindness and respect to your child and to people around you. Third, tell them to speak up if they witness bullying; if your child stands up for someone, the person he/she helped is more likely to do the same for them. Finally, talk to your child’s school to see if they have anti-bullying measures in place; if not, you could suggest that they hire a child psychologist to help bullies and victims, for example.

Is my child being bullied? To find out if your child is having problems at school, daily communication is key. You can start by telling them about your day before asking about theirs. It is also very important to listen to what they have to say without assigning blame or jumping to conclusions. and always be open to conversation. Furthermore, try to look for physical or emotional signs. Bullied children may be reluctant to go to school or join school events, and may become unusually secretive, Unicef says. With children using electronic devices and social media at ever-younger ages nowadays, you may also want to consider monitoring your kids’ online activities to make sure they’re not suffering from cyberbullying.

I found out my child is being bullied, what do I do? Be there for your child, but don’t take on their problems as your own; stepping into the playground and confronting the bully yourself will only make your child want to avoid talking to you about their problems. Instead, try contacting teachers to ask them to keep an eye on your child; most bullies don’t bully in front of teachers. In case of cyberbullying, block and report the people that are bullying your child online. You can also teach your child to confront bullies by building up their self-confidence and practicing replies to the bully’s attacks at home. It is also very important for your child to have someone to talk to for them to cope with the bullying. If your child doesn’t open up to you, try to get him/her to do so with someone else such as another family member or even a child psychologist.

Egyptian anti-bullying initiatives that may help: Advice seekers— founded in 2014 by Mostafa Ashraf following his friend’s suicide due to bullying — posts educational videos about bullying. Unicef Egypt also has additional resources and information that could help.


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WHAT TO DO IF YOUR CHILD HAS TROUBLE FOCUSING

Readjusting to classroom learning may come more easily to some children than others: After a year of being (mostly) taught at home, some children may welcome in person learning, while others could suffer from distraction and overstimulation. If your child has trouble focusing in class, there are a multitude of possibilities as to why that could be, and going through the process of diagnosing the problem and solving it is a delicate process.

Before looking for solutions, you have to detect the problem itself. And no, it doesn't have to be ADD/ADHD. There are many reasons why your child might be having difficulty paying attention in class, ranging from anxiety and stress to not getting proper sleep or nutrition. Of course, there is always the possibility that a child may have an undetected learning disability, but a diagnosis cannot be determined solely through a concerned teacher, or a single visit to a doctor.

How do I detect a learning disability? In order to detect a learning disability (e.g. dyslexia, ADHD, ADD etc.), a clinician should collect information about the child’s behavior from a number of people who have been able to observe the child, as well as conduct observation of the child alone, or among other students in the same age group as the child in question.

What can I do at school to make it easier for my child to pay attention? To make paying attention in class easier for your child, you could ask the teacher to change seating arrangements to either isolate the child from talkative classmates or have them sit at the front. If you have access to your child’s teacher, discuss your child’s particular learning style with them to see if that can be accomodated. Visual learners will be more attentive to diagrams, flashcards, and written homework assignments for example, while tactile/kinesthetic learners may do better by using objects they can touch (blocks, legos, or mock-ups of scenes) to absorb information.

What can I do at home? Catering at-home study to your child’s preferences can help keep their attention from wandering. Using methods that are different from those used in the classroom can keep things interesting and varied, while allowing breaks in between tasks can help manage their workload and attention.

Incorporating non-study activities can also help boost focus: Working on puzzles with your child, or even supervising them whilst they’re solving a puzzle helps improve their critical-thinking or problem-solving skills, and it’s also a great way to unwind and relax whilst still exercising their brain power. Make sure to provide puzzles that are suitable for your child’s age and abilities; if they start working on a puzzle that is meant for an older age group, they might give up and doubt their skills. For older children and those who are inclined, teaching children how to practice basic mindfulness skills can help them re-center their focus when they become distracted, even if it’s something as simple as stopping what you’re doing and counting to ten.

The bottom line is, some kids may be in for a bumpy ride this school year: Having to adjust to so many changes yet again won’t be easy, and attention and productivity may fall by the wayside at first. It may take some time to adjust, but as long as your child has the support they need and the resources they require to promote better focus, the adjustment will go smoothly eventually. Most importantly, remember to cut the kids, and yourself, some slack.

HOW TO TALK TO YOUR CHILD ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH

Stresses caused by the pandemic can take their toll on all of us — and kids can be just as vulnerable. It’s possible your child may experience feelings of isolation after being away from their classmates for so long, as well as anxiety around returning to a school environment.

Kids should know that it's OK not to feel OK all the time: Talk to your child about mental health. Now more than ever, children should receive age-appropriate information and support, psychologists say. It is critical for a parent to validate his/her child’s negative feelings and become the go-to person whenever the child is feeling a little down. When children lack sufficient information, they tend to create their own realities and resort to other resources that might do more harm than good.

But there could be a point when behavioral issues go beyond normal, even under the entirely abnormal conditions of social distancing. This should serve as an alarm bell for parents to take action. Experts say that if your child exhibits abnormal behavior for their age or personality, you mustn’t ignore it. Failing to acknowledge your child’s mental illness is the first step in the wrong direction. On the other hand, don’t blow things out of proportion: Very often changes in behaviour and mood can be a reaction to a circumstantial issue and can be improved by addressing the root cause. Most importantly, do not make your kids feel as though something is wrong with them.

If you think something is up, consult the professionals: Although you need to do your research, you should also consult a child therapist or a pediatrician instead of diagnosing your child based on an educated guess. While you’re at it, you might as well ask the experts how to approach the subject matter with your child; how you should set up an environment where your child feels safe to vent while simultaneously giving him/her the right piece of advice.

No judgements here: Be empathetic; adults should always reassure their kids about their mental wellbeing. Children need to have quality time with their parents, where they should be encouraged to talk about their stressors while not feeling judged. Enforce the notion that it’s OK to feel overwhelmed. So resist the urge to “fix” things. “Studies show that even one safe, stable and nurturing relationship can be a major protective factor in the face of traumatic events,” a mental health expert tells NBC.

How do you talk to your kid about stress and anxiety if you have anxiety yourself? Instead of letting this shake your confidence, let it be your strong suit. According to child trauma experts, young people are natural observers and notice immediately if their parents are stressed out. So the best way to tackle this is to be open with your child about it and encourage a two-way dialogue, where you both feel safe to share what’s keeping you down. As a matter of fact, children can become resilient to adversity when they feel more socially connected, experts say. But remember, children whose parents struggle with mental illness are more likely to have emotional disturbances, so make sure to set boundaries for yourself, and don’t overburden your child with your problems.

Remind your children about the positives: As they’re returning back to school, constantly remind them they’re going to see their friends and teachers once more. Point out their strengths and let them know that it’s natural to feel anxious to go back to school, especially due to covid. Stay positive and celebrate even the tiniest milestones, and always point out that the future is brighter.

YOUR TOP 5

Your top 5 pieces of business and economic news in August:

RESOURCES FOR HOMESCHOOLING

Some kids may keep attending school in their living rooms for good: Though the majority of parents we’ve spoken to are dying to get their kids back off the couch and out of the house for a few hours a day, a minority have gotten a taste for homeschooling and could be planning on continuing to learn from home.

The government has been pushing to get kids back into classrooms this fall, with Education Minister Tarek Shawky stressing that this school year won’t be held remotely, Al-Watan reports.

Does Egypt even recognize homeschooling? Although Egypt doesn’t strictly recognize homeschooling, children can be enrolled in a school that permits them to be homeschooled, as long as they sit their exams at the school.

Is homeschooling helpful? Even though homeschooling is a major lifestyle change, it protects young and easily impressionable children from peer pressure and bullying, which has a positive effect on the child’s academic performance and their self-esteem. Being homeschooled protects children from having their values defined by their peers, and shields them from social ridicule or bullying. Children might not have as many daily interactions with their peers when they’re homeschooled, communities can begin to plan activities for the children, which offers more chances to interact with their peers.

But how will the kids develop social skills? Much research on homeschooling (pdf) finds that homeschooled children score at least as high as their conventionally schooled peers in terms of their abilities. Homeschooled kids actually tend to have better relationships with their parents and other adults, and were found to be less likely to act selfishly, and more emotionally stable as adolescents.

But homeschooling isn’t just about following an online curriculum at home. Other than the significant time investment that may not be possible if both parents have full-time jobs, homeschooling also entails a number of activities, such as museum/ library visits that are essential to developing a child’s analytical capacity and cultural exposure.

If you’re looking to homeschool your child in Egypt, the Launch Egypt organization, which has partnered up with the United States and offers a California state curriculum, is worth checking out. Likewise, Genius Kids Community brings together the benefits of homeschooling and community learning. There are many other resources for online homeschooling, including Khan Academy, which is one of the most popular online learning resources. If you’d like to connect with other Egyptians who are homeschooling their kids, check out the Facebook group ‘Home Schooling in Egypt’.

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