Tiny faces behind masks, constant reminders not to share items or move too close to peers, and limited time on playgrounds are the new normal with reopening of schools.
Children in their ever-ingenious ways are coming up with ways to break the many rules that are pushing them away from their playmates.
They share snacks beneath desks, lower their masks to show their friends their bare gums where milk teeth fell, and some even exchange face masks when teachers are not looking.
“I found a group of children surrounding my eight-year-old son to stare at the stitches he got when a window hit his forehead during the holidays. They were so close to his face…” wrote Evelyne Gai on a social media post that elicited a conversation on how young people are having a hard time adhering to the Covid-19 containment measures.
Teachers have admitted that the better part of the day is spent telling young learners to pull up their masks.
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Judith Kaloki, sub-county CBC champion at Kanaani School in Athi River, says it is easier to enforce the rules among the youngest population who can be conditioned faster into adjusting to new behaviour.
“The older students are already set in certain routines. So you have to watch them closely, otherwise they go back to the old ways of interactions,” says Kaloki.
Psychologists say the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the children and the repercussions will be visible long after the physical impact has faded away.
Social distancing for a long time, the psychologists fear, might cause emotional maladjustment and some of the children may find it hard to express their feelings due to long durations of being socially distanced from their friends.
Faith Nafula, a counselling psychologist, says it is at a young age that people learn how to make emotional connections by establishing friendships and developing conflict resolution skills, a process that has now been disrupted by social distance.
“Now most children spend time with their own thoughts. They are slowly getting used to not seeking company and help from friends. The impact will manifest in future,” says Nafula.
She says sharing is also an integral part of early childhood behaviour development and it will take a series of unlearning and relearning for the children to fully understand why they cannot share items now but will have to share in future.
“The curriculum will have to change to incorporate the learning and unlearning of basic things such as sharing. Otherwise, we will have a generation that is growing up thinking it is okay not to share,” she says.
Susan Gitau, a psychologist and lecturer at African Nazarene University, says teachers should be on the lookout for post-traumatic stress disorder that children returning to school after a long period could be showing.
She says sleeping in class, change of moods, aggressiveness, constantly engaging in physical fights, confusion and anxiety are among the signs to look out for.
“Children are carrying a big emotional burden of this disease. Some went through physical and sexual abuse. When parents lost jobs, children felt it too when they lacked basic needs,” Gitau says, advising teachers against being harsh or impatient with children.