The prolonged school closure and the need to stay home affects parent-child relationships

Just over a month has passed since the government abruptly called for school closures nationwide to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. A recent spike of confirmed cases in Tokyo has prompted governor Koike Yuriko to ask residents to refrain from non-essential outings. A new school year began Monday, but most schools in Tokyo have decided to stay closed for at least one more month.

Inaba Ai is a mother of three living in Yokohama. Her children have been at home every day since their school closed in early March, and she says she's feeling the strain.
“We've been squabbling constantly because of the sheer length of time we spend together. And I was already worn out when the school closed. Now I never have a moment to rest.”

Inaba found herself getting irritated when the children didn't help set the table at meals, or didn't tidy their toys away.

The children no longer have contact with people other than their family, and don't have the release of spending time with their school friends. The sudden increase in the amount of time they spend together is putting pressure on all members of the family.

It's a story playing out in homes across the country, where parents and children are feeling the pressure of being cooped up together.

Florence, a non-profit organization supporting child-rearing, asked 10,000 people across Japan what kind of problems they are facing because of the school closures.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents said they were worried that their children are getting less exercise. More than half said they were concerned about their children's mental health, and the stress they must be feeling because schools are closed and they can't meet their friends.


And some of the comments raise an even more troubling issue. “I snarled at my children aggressively ... and almost got violent. I thought some parents might cross that line," read one.

The non-profit organization The Japan Network for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect says mental stress is one of the main reasons for child abuse, so there's a concern that the school closures could exacerbate the problem. The organization wants to see measures to help reduce parents’ stress. It says authorities should establish places where children can study and play outside their homes, even if it's just a neighborhood park.

The organization also recommends that people pay attention to parents in their communities.

Meanwhile, Inaba Ai says she's found one method to reduce the stress in her home. She remembered education expert Ogi Naoki speaking on TV, saying "mothers are more mature than their children, so they should exercise patience and refrain from venting their frustrations.”

She says since she stopped complaining to her children and gave them more leeway to do what they wanted, she noticed a change in their attitude too.

"They're volunteering to help with household chores like cleaning the bath tub and setting the table," she says. "We're quarrelling less, and now they respond at once when I call them."