United Arab Emirates: For Covid babies, life has always been behind a mask – News

Today, many children blow out birthday candles online and meet classmates through screens

Posted: Sun Jan 9, 2022, 4:26 PM

Last update: Sun Jan 9, 2022, 4:30 PM

Sarah, five, has never been to school. She only met her classmates and teachers through a screen.

Eleven-month-old Ditiksha has seen virtually no human faces without a mask, except for his father, mother and nanny. She thinks humans wear masks and learns to identify the people behind the face covering.

Two-year-old Alice has yet to play with another child her age. She was also not at a large gathering.

Eight-year-old Aadi celebrated her birthday online. His friends wished him through a screen when he blew out candles and cut the cake.

These are the children of Covid who are growing up in the shadow of a pandemic. Their laptops are their school campuses. Their teachers are virtual beings who appear on their screens every morning to deliver the lessons. Their classrooms and playgrounds are the same.

Their world has shrunk within the four walls of their homes thanks to a killer virus with no apparent expiration date. These children believe that a simple cold and fever are life-changing illnesses. They grow up washing their hands more often than they get their clothes dirty. They are forced to mask themselves and maintain a social distance if they are lucky enough to sit on a school bus or enter a classroom.

Growing up in a world ravaged by the pandemic is not the “new normal” for Covid children. It is just normal. This is the daily reality of children born after the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in Wuhan, China, in early December 2019.

It’s a strange world that we adults have a hard time understanding. It’s this world of blockages, travel restrictions, working from home; this world of fear and panic, of death and disease, in which infants have been baptized. And the impact this can have on their mental and social development is huge, fear health experts and parents.

School closures

School closures and long periods of online learning are one of the biggest changes that have impacted children. According to Unesco, the education of nearly 1.6 billion children has so far been affected by the pandemic in 190 countries.

Schools in the UAE have also switched to online or blended learning for most of 2020 and 2021. This has deprived children of social gatherings and interactions with their peers and teachers.

As of this writing, the majority of schools in the UAE have decided to return to online learning – again – as the number of daily infections in the country surpasses 2,700.

According to parents, taking online learning to the next level has posed a big challenge for many children.

Shivani Maheshwari, an Indian mother in Dubai, said it was a “big transition” for her 9-year-old son, Aadi, when he had to start physical classes three months ago after more than ‘one year of online course.

“Our kids have been taking online classes all last year and also most of 2021 until KHDA (Knowledge and Human Development Authority) made it mandatory. We were really worried that they would take the infection home, ”said Maheshwari.

She said the “adjustment problem” affected her son more than her daughter, who is in 7th grade.

“Aadi was a bit of an introvert. Thus, he had become very comfortable sitting at home and did not have to interact with his peers. He even took his physical education and yoga classes online. We had to work hard to encourage him to be passionate about school. Now it’s gone for a draw because we’re back to square one, ”said the parent.

She said her son had become “shy” about meeting people since he had been confined to his home. “We even had her birthday online where the kids played online games and storytelling. As parents, there is a fine line between ensuring their safety and facilitating their social skills, ”Maheshwari admitted.

Minimal social interactions

Although children are believed to have mild symptoms of Covid, the pandemic has deprived them of valuable social interactions that are imperative for honing their communication skills.

Deep Chaudhuri, a businessman from Dubai, said he was “worried” about what the pandemic will do to his daughter in the long run. “She is only 11 months old and we are doing everything to protect her. But growing up without seeing other people apart from your mom, dad, and nanny isn’t healthy. She has yet to meet her grandparents, ”Chaudhari said.

“We limit our outings and social gatherings and as a result, she hasn’t seen many faces without masks. Now she has learned to recognize the people behind the masks.

Older children are already showing signs of stress and anxiety due to social isolation.

“I miss seeing my friends. I can’t play with them when there is no school, ”said 6-year-old Antony. “I love football and my school has large play areas. There is not enough space in the house.

His 8-year-old sister Catherine misses a picnic with her friends.

Talk to Khaleej weather on condition of anonymity, their mother LB said her children are anxious.

“Catherine gets in a bad mood and sometimes refuses to talk about what is bothering her. Her brother is hyperactive and has trouble following instructions, ”said the parent. The two are going into therapy and LB says it’s helping them.

Mental health toll

Child psychologists and doctors around the world have already sounded the alarm bells about the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health.

For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health visits to emergency departments in the United States from mid-March to October 2021, for children aged five and 11, increased by 24%. . A 2021 survey by the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany found that around one in three children suffers from anxiety or depression linked to a pandemic.

Affirming the fears, Sara Costa, a recreation therapist at Al Jaleela Children’s Hospital in Dubai, says she sees an increasing number of children struggling with mental stress, anxiety and learning problems.

“Fear and anxiety are high in children. They grow up hearing and experience fear and panic. Many are socially isolated. It will cost them dearly if it is not treated properly, ”Costa said.

She said she used play to solve cognitive, emotional, physical and sensory issues when caring for children. “It’s a holistic approach that kids can relate to. “

Messaging is crucial for children, she says. “If we create a climate of fear by asking them to wash their hands and not touch or hug their friends because they will get sick, it will have a negative impact. Instead, we can teach children to take care of themselves, and hygiene is a form of personal care. So there is no red flag, but the message is getting out, ”Costa said.

Decipher the emotions behind a mask

Child psychologist Andrea Tosatto says wearing masks can certainly have negative effects on children’s ability to learn and understand emotions. He said they will have a hard time deciphering emotions through facial expressions when the world is hiding behind a mask for fear of the virus.


“The ability to read emotions comprehensively, clearly and without obstacles is absolutely important in all children and especially in the autistic population. Lip reading is essential in the language acquisition phase regardless of the child’s hearing ability. This becomes extremely necessary when learning to write. The child also learns to write correctly through clear, articulate and simplified dictation with obvious movements of the teacher’s mouth, ”said Tosatto.

According to him, a masked teacher is a half-effective teacher when it comes to communication.

While protecting children from the virus, he cautions that parents should be careful not to develop phobias and obsessive-compulsive behaviors among the younger population.

“We don’t want them to grow up thinking it’s wrong to swap a pen with classmates, shake hands or cuddle. We have to find the right balance, ”said Tosatto, who had worked at the American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology in Dubai.

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Norma A. Roth