Monday | 11 May | 2020
By Dr Eugene Brink
Covid-19 and a large degree of isolation in our homes will be an indefinite feature for most families in South Africa and the world.
If this is an uncertain period full of anxiety and stress for adults, kids are likewise frustrated and scared. We as families can choose to approach this phase with trepidation or false hope, or we can choose to use this time productively and constructively – even when a pandemic of historic proportions is raging.
The first step is to find the right way of talking to your kids about this.
Set their mind at ease
The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) says it is advisable to answer their questions simply and honestly and recognise their feelings. “Talk with children about any frightening news they hear. Calmly say, for example, ‘I can see that you are upset because you can’t have your friends over.’ Guiding questions can help older children and teens work through issues.”
“You take on the news and you’re the person who filters the news to your kid,” explains Dr Janine Domingues, a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. However, she says, be developmentally appropriate. “Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters.”
Keeping routines are key
During the pandemic, it is more important than ever to maintain bedtime and other routines, says the AAP. “They create a sense of order to the day that offers reassurance in a very uncertain time. All children, including teens, benefit from routines that are predictable yet flexible enough to meet individual needs.”
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) suggests that you draw up a schedule for you and your children that allows time for structured activities as well as free time. Teenagers and younger children can help plan these routines – like making a school timetable – and will probably better adhere to it if they help make it. “This can help children feel more secure and better behaved.”
The AAP proposes the following general order:
- wake-up routines, getting dressed, breakfast and some active play in the morning, followed by quiet play and snack to transition into schoolwork.
- lunch, chores, exercise, some online social time with friends, and then homework in the afternoon.
- family time and reading before bed.
Moreover, set aside one-on-one time for each child. This could be just 20 minutes or longer. Read a book and look at pictures, make drawings, dance to music, help them with their school work, or do a chore together.
An essential part of keeping everyone sane during lockdown is discipline. Tantrums are almost certain to happen and Dr Kristin Carothers, a clinical psychologist, says it is best to merely ignore them – even when they’re embarrassing. “Giving in to a child’s tantrum inadvertently reinforces the behaviour that he used to get what he wanted, and that is not something that you want to encourage. Instead, parents should wait for their child to calm down and then immediately praise him for being calm.”
This is why the use of positive discipline is so important to counter the adversarial nature of discipline. First, says AAP, redirect bad behaviour by finding something else for them to do. Help them to play creatively by making drawings of how your family is staying safe. Point out and reinforce good behaviour by praising success and good attempts. Make use of rewards and privileges. However, use a time-out if necessary. Remind them of what they did wrong by saying only what’s necessary and remove them from the situation for a pre-set length of time (one minute per year is appropriate).
American Academy of Paediatrics, 2020, “Parenting in a pandemic: Tips to keep the calm at home”, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/communication-discipline/Pages/Positive-Parenting-and-COVID-19_10-Tips.aspx.
Rachel Ehmke, 2020, “How to discipline toddlers”, https://childmind.org/article/how-discipline-toddlers/.Unicef, 2020, “Tips for parenting during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak”, https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/covid-19-parenting-tips#3.
* All information was correct at the time of publication.