Today millions of children throughout Italy return to school after six months of self-management, during which daily life has changed. All of us have witnessed a deconstruction of our habits, the same has happened for children and adolescents who today return to school with different methods, rules and procedures. The return represents therefore a new alteration of the balance for the students, who may feel anxiety and fear towards a place considered familiar before the lockdown.
The increase in anxiety and stress levels, frequently experienced by young people even in "normal" conditions, is a physiological consequence of the pandemic. However, when anxiety is not recognized and managed correctly, it can be internalized (causing sleep disorders, irritability, difficulty in concentration, alteration of appetite) or acted on (through unregulated social behavior such as substance abuse and / or abuse of technology) causing emotional and / or social distress in the person and a worsening of school performance.
This aspect is essential because various research agree that psychological wellbeing/discomfort is responsible for the overall development of the individual, especially at the age of development because it impacts on behavior, on how to create and cultivate relationships and in general on how to deal with the challenges that life presents.
In fact, in adolescence and even more so in childhood, cerebral, emotional and relational development is underway, and this gives the person a greater plasticity to events. This condition, on the one hand, allows for the exploitation of resources and adaptive abilities and, on the other, exposes the person to a greater permeability to events and life contexts. This means that the minor is more affected - sometimes not very evident but deep - by the climate and the specific characteristics of the situation they are living in every sphere of life (family, school, relational, social ...).
It follows from what has been said that the youngest are more exposed to the negative aspects of the current situation. It is therefore necessary to implement effective strategies that make possible a peaceful return to school, especially in light of the most recent data that show a significant increase in anxiety disorders and depression among the youngest, as a result of the pandemic (Huang, Y., & Zhao, N.,2020; Rossi, R. et al., 2020; Zhou et al. 2020).
In this context, the decision to include psychological support among the measures provided by the Security Protocol for the resumption of September, signed on August 6 by Minister Azzolina together with trade unions, comes to life. On the basis of the agreement between the Ministry of Education and the National Council of the Order of Psychologists (CNOP) will be promoted psychological support activities to deal with situations of stress, insecurity, fear of contagion, difficulty of concentration and repercussions related to the months of isolation. The objective is not to pathologize the condition in which we find ourselves, but rather to provide tools and strategies to address and manage the situation adequately.
Dr. Davide Lazzari, President of CNOP, in an open letter to Skuola.net describes the measure in these terms:
"Psychology is not only clinical or treatment, it is above all work of promotion and development of resources and capacity to address adaptive challenges, it is prevention because it provides concrete tools. It is the psychic dimension that guides our way of reading reality and our reactions, for better or for worse, that helps us to be resilient and effective. So, how can one think that the world of the School is "unarmed" and powerless from a psychological point of view? It is evident, especially in the face of the health and social crisis of the pandemic that has become a psychological crisis, that keeping the School without psychological skills is pure madness.”
Dr. Lazzari also emphasizes the positive economic impact of this measure: it is estimated that for every euro spent in psychological support, you can save from 3 to 10 euros in terms of public spending on health care (Khan et al. 2015).
It is clear that the introduction of the psychologist in the school is not enough to ensure a smooth and fluid return: it is necessary that all educational figures (parents, teachers, teachers, educators, sports technicians, ...) collaborate in synergy to build a network of support. It will be important to encourage the reconstruction of ties between peers, encourage the inclusion of children with difficulties, create opportunities for discussion and dialogue, all in full compliance with the rules and procedures for prevention of contagion, which should be explained to children with a language appropriate to their level of development.
It is also important to reassure children and communicate the measures to be taken without frightening them and without lying, to avoid creating further confusion and fear. Simple words, pictures, videos and games can help children to better understand and remember how to behave. For example, you could create a visual diary with images of the different actions (wear the mask, wash your hands often...) and hang it in an accessible place, so that it can be easily consulted.
Translated by Francesca Cioffi
Original version by Sara Bergamini