7 am on a Monday, sometime in August 2020.
Still half-asleep, stumbling around from time-to-time, Avi walks in the room. His mom is busy laying out his clothes. She pulls out his new bag from the cupboard and dusts it. It's been there for a few months now.
At breakfast, she tells him all about being nice to the teacher and saying hello to everyone. She tells him to remember to eat the banana she packed and only to drink water from his bottle.
At the door, she stuffs a tiny bottle of sanitiser in his little pocket and hands him over the mask. To this, he says, "I want the blue mask, it will match my shirt."
On his way to school, he sees people covered in masks, maintaining distance. He remembers the time when sellers sat on the roads, and markets were crowded. Now, everything seemed different.
As Avi enters school, the teacher checks his temperature and squeezes a drop of sanitiser on his palm. Rubbing his hands, he walks in.
On entering the room, he sees a few more children, all his age. Covered in masks and gloves, all of them sit away from each other.
"It is a little odd," he thinks to himself. He takes his place and thinks, "I imagined re-opening of school differently."
At this point, we can only imagine how the future will be. But one thing we know for sure is that it will in no way, be the way it used to be.
For children, who will begin schooling post-pandemic, the norms will be different. The new normal will change the definition of playtime, making friends and fighting, altogether. They will all still experience it all, but this time, through social distancing at least until we find a vaccine for the virus that has stalled the world.
Speaking about children socialising amid the new norm, Pranita Tendulkar, a school teacher, said, "Previously I hadn't given it so much of a thought, but now, when I think about it, I see a lot of negatives considering socialising skills."
"As children, most of our cherished memories come from school days. Travelling to school, fighting for the window seat, giggling and laughing - it's all a part of growing up. And these children might miss it," she added.
Expressing concern about the children becoming paranoid, she said, "These children will grow up knowing social distance as a norm. So even if it's a casual high-five, some kids might become paranoid about contracting germs."
"For us, maintaining a distance from our friends is a conscious effort. But for these kids, it might be very normal. Playing from a distance and always being conscious of distance. It may also go to the extent of children believing that going outside is dangerous altogether," she added.
The advent of technology was anyway keeping children indoors, and parents struggled to ensure their wards went out to play. Add the pandemic to the equation; the stress has only multiplied for both children and parents.
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There's another set of children who haven't experienced socialising yet. The preschoolers will be introduced to a different world. Their nascent years of socialising will be spent in the social-distancing era, and that will be the new normal for them.
Expressing similar concerns Suvajit Mustafi, a colleague and a fellow writer, says, "In an ideal situation, I was hoping my son will go to school for few years and then we would shift him to homeschooling. By then he would have interacted with a lot of people. Through extra-curricular activities, he would continue to develop his social skill. But now, this pandemic has changed the situation."
Suvajit's son, Ayan, is three-years-old and began nursery just before the lockdown was announced. After attending school for barely a week, he was forced to stay indoors. "We had just got Ayan admitted to a school. But now we don't know when school will start. He's learning well at home, knows all the State capitals, cricket shots and chants 'Go Corona' all day, but he's missing out on interaction with his age-group."
Delving more details on the challenges that parents are faced with, Suvajit adds, "These early years are critical in building social skills. Like, in our time, we would go out to play in the evening. But now, since most of us live in nuclear families and parents lead a busy and hectic life, kids are more connected to gadgets and the playtime has reduced. Parents find it challenging to get their kids to develop these mingling skills and develop confidence.
"We have also noticed that our son is very comfortable when we are around, but when it comes to going out and interacting with other kids, he isn't that comfortable. Something my parents tell me that it wasn't the case with me or most kids from my generation."
Sneha Gore, a teacher herself, isn't so much worried about socialisation but expresses her concern over accustoming children to going out post-lockdown. Her daughter, Kaushiki, another three-year-old is comfortable with the idea of staying indoors and understands that it is dangerous to go outside. But what worries her is how to get her daughter used to the idea of resuming regular life.
"Kaushiki rather took the news of the lockdown very well. She (Kaushiki) said, 'Modi aba (grandpa) says it's dangerous to go out, so we shouldn't go out'", humoured Gore.
Expressing the need to figure out an exit strategy, she said, "The idea of staying at home and having parents around all the time is very comforting. But the challenge is to break that habit and resume work/normal life."
While parents are concerned about children being able to adapt to the new normal and learning to socialise in a new way, Sakal Times spoke to Ketaki Thosar, a psychological counsellor at Symbiosis Centre for Emotional Well-being.
Talking about explaining the situation to children, Ketaki said, "As children, we read books, and we learned about the outside world through the process of imagination. Similarly, these kids need to realise that this is not the way the world normally functions. This is not the norm."
"It is important to normalise the situation for kids that is now, and not them create a delusional thought about what is happening," she added.
She also stressed the importance of creating other associations with the outside world, to make them understand that this is a temporary situation.
"Creating associations other than fear with the outside world is important. You need to tell kids that stepping out does not only mean you will get infected. Reiterate that, this is a difficult time, and this is a different time but stepping out is not a bad thing. It's something we need to avoid for a while, but we cannot avoid it forever," said the counsellor.
Discussing the impact of the pandemic, and talking about children socialising, Ketaki said, "It is also important to understand, that the largest contributor to a child's ability to form a social connection, is their relation with the parents or primary caregivers."
"It is a psychological concept called the attachment theory. It is important to use this time to foster better and secure attachments with the children. This is something that impacts children for life, it impacts the way you form any kind of relations at any age," suggested Ketaki.
"It affects all forms of relations and also affects the way your mental health is. It also affects your self-esteem and the way to work. So, it is right now; I feel it is a good opportunity for parents to connect with their children before life resumes to normalcy," she concluded.
While parents and children all over struggle to cope with the global situation. Most parents believe, online classes cannot be an option for young children as they still do not understand the concept of it.
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Parents though apprehensive, eagerly wait for school to start and for normal life to return to normal.
It's ironical that in a generation where we sought adventure and newness, how the world has begun craving for the routine.