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Editorial: As Japan celebrates Children's Day, we must listen more to kids amid pandemic

How should we deal with our children amidst the spread of the coronavirus? Let us reconsider this issue today, May 5 -- Children's Day in Japan.

    Schools and families are being pressed to fumble their way toward finding the right way to respond to the situation at hand.

    In prefectures such as Osaka and Tokyo, where the third state of emergency declaration has been issued surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, there are schools that have switched many of their classes to online format. Some local governments have requested that schools cancel club activities as a general rule, and to cancel or postpone school events.

    Variant strains of the virus have been wreaking havoc, but according to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, there is no data at this point in time to show that infections have clearly been spreading among children. Intra-household infection is the most common, and the ministry has judged that community-wide school closures are unnecessary.

    However, depending on the situation going forward, there is a possibility that more people will demand that school activities be further limited, including full school closures.

    What is concerning is the impacts such moves can have on children both physically and emotionally.

    Already, children have experienced anxiety and stress from school closures and restrictions placed on their interactions with friends. There are quite a few schools that say that an increased number of their students have started refusing to attend school, or are complaining of ill health.

    Families, meanwhile, have had to face the late April to early May holiday amidst the spread of the virus, just like they did last year. Unable to go out, many must be at a loss about how to spend so much free time with their children.

    There is a picture book that has quietly drawn an enthusiastic response since last autumn.

    It is a book self-published by Bukkyo University associate professor Masako Nagase, in which she puts together what we should be careful about in facing our children during the coronavirus pandemic in easy-to-understand Japanese. What she used as the base for the book is a statement released by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

    Some of the advice includes: "Adjust your language to each child, and explain in a way that that one child can understand," and, "Under any circumstances, listen to the child's 'voice.'"

    Nagase, who has a child in elementary school herself, said, "In the nationwide school closures last year, there were no sufficient explanations on why the closures were necessary from the leaders of the country or the schools. I wanted to spread what was being said in the statement."

    The picture book has undergone multiple printings, and has now been read by many people.

    Some schools have had students offer ideas on how to execute safe school festivals and other school events, and actually applied those measures.

    Amid the coronavirus pandemic, many children have been forced to be patient, and are suffering from stress as a result. For the sake of our children, let us listen to their voices.

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