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Growing up without the luxury of learning facial expressions

alexia

By Alexia Saleem

Starting school was always going to be a big a change for Team Saleem. It wasn’t just a new chapter in the children’s lives, but it was also a new chapter in our lives. New friends, new parents, new teachers, new rules, new everything.

But school, post Covid, is starkly different to how I’d imagined the transition from home life would be.

I didn’t really think too much about what it would be like, but I certainly never imagined a scenario where parents weren’t allowed into the premises at all during school time and where teachers wore face masks.

I also never imagined a scenario where I would have virtually no relationship with my children’s teachers and to have such little contact with anyone other than the designated adult at the drop-off gate.

When I was at primary school, I loved my teachers and I remember my mother got to know them really well over the course of the year simply because she had so much access to them. Sometimes I wonder if teachers prefer this new normal because it means less interference from parents, who can become more of a hindrance than a help over the years.

But from a child’s perspective, it’s a little bit strange not to be able to have their parents come into the classroom. Especially as having your parents check a place out can make it feel safer.

We explained that because of Covid we can’t come in. They have grasped this concept but it’s still a peculiar situation to be in when you’re a little person and haven’t experienced being away from home for long periods of time. It must be much harder on the younger children who desperately want that reassurance from their parents but due to Covid restrictions the school’s arms are tied.

In fact, there are a lot of new rules and constraints because of Covid. Rules and constraints that I don’t think are going anywhere any time soon. They are in force in the name of keeping people safe I know. But I’m not sure what message it’s giving our children and how it’s affecting their emotional wellbeing. Especially when I’ve heard some schools are stricter than others and teachers won’t even give the children a hug if they’re upset for fear of contamination.

And what about reading a teacher’s facial expressions when they’re wearing a mask? They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. Well, our children are certainly putting that to the test and learning to judge what mood their teachers are in by reading their eyes.

I know this after Katerina asked me to draw a picture of her teachers one morning. She’d been having a wobble about going in and wanted me to draw a picture of a rainbow and then to put both her teachers, as well as herself, underneath the rainbow. I was delighted that I could draw the two adults wearing masks as I’ve never been very good at drawing human faces.

When I was done, Katerina looked at my drawing and asked why I’d made one of her teachers angry. I looked at the picture. I couldn’t see an angry face. I’d drawn a teacher with long hair and a face mask and had put in two dots for eyes.

“Her eyes. Look at her eyes. They’re angry eyes mama,” she told me.

Katerina then took a pen and softened the edges of the drawing’s eyes. She wanted her teacher to have kind eyes. Eyes that she could feel safe and comfortable being around when she was away from home.

It made me think that children growing up post pandemic are going to get really good at reading people’s eyes because that’s all they can see most of the time.

But it also made me wonder what it’s like for children in general nowadays. When I was growing up, you got to see a person’s whole face and you learned how to discern emotion by reading facial expressions. Children today don’t have that luxury.

We actually ran into our children’s head teacher at a café the other day and Katerina went over to say hello to her. Well, she didn’t actually speak to her as she was too shy. Instead, she stood in front of her until her head teacher noticed her. I could tell from her body language that the head teacher, in her mask, had said hello to Katerina. But Katerina just continued to stare at her. Her head teacher then quickly pulled down her mask to give her a big smile, before pulling it back up just as fast, whereby Katerina responded with a big smile of her own.

It’s a different world.

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