Friday | 17 April | 2020
By Melodie Veldhuizen
During the past few weeks we have realised anew how our safe and sheltered lives can change into a chaotic world of unprecedented emotions and experiences. Overnight panic purchases, lockdown and quarantine, social distancing, news about fatality figures and the number of people infected with the coronavirus have not become news reports only about other countries. They have also become part of South Africans’ daily existence.
Our children are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools have closed earlier than the scheduled date. Parents have started working from home and suddenly families are at home and together every day. Confusing for children, because it feels like holiday, but isn’t really holiday, as you can’t go anywhere, even to go and have breakfast at your favourite family restaurant. Between playing and doing fun things, time has to be set aside for schoolwork. Hanging out with friends and cycling in the street are taboo and only Mom or Dad do the shopping. The only contact with Granddad and Grandma, who live only a few blocks away, is via phone and video-calls. What impact does this situation we find ourselves in have on our children’s state of mind? It is essential that parents take care of their children’s emotional wellbeing during the lockdown period as well as afterwards.
Experts provide some guidelines.
- Be aware of your own fears and how you react to and handle the news and the entire situation. Children are sensitive and the anxiety you exude verbally and through your body language, has an impact on their state of mind. Stay calm and reassure them. When you feel anxious or worried, isolate yourself for a short while just to recharge. Parents have to create an atmosphere of safety and security for their children, now more than ever before.
- Look out for signs of anxiety in your children, such as being touchy or irritated, a change in sleeping and eating patterns, as well as a greater need for attention. Encourage them to talk and to ask questions. Children’s fears can among others be about what would happen if their parents or they themselves fall ill, what the coronavirus is and if everyone is going to die, if their parents will go back to work again and where they will find money for food.
- Restrict their exposure to social media, as well as television and radio news reports. Repetitive reports about the same subject can heighten fear.
- Answer their questions honestly with verified information from reliable sources and share it with your children in an age-appropriate way.
- Show empathy and understanding and don’t dismiss their fears as being of no consquence.
- Allow children to talk about their disappointments and sadness, such as about school, sport and cultural activities, as well as social events such as birthday parties which they will miss out on during the lockdown and about their longing to see their friends and grandparents.
- See to it that they eat healthily, get enough sleep, exercise and fresh air – a healthy body houses a healthy mind.
- Daily hygiene and a neat appearance remain important, even if you are at home all day. If you look neat and feel clean, your mood is lighter as well.
- Give the assurance that you as parents and everyone who cares for them will make sure they are healthy and safe.
- Assure them that in most cases people who contract the disease get well again, and that not everyone dies from the diseases, but that everyone has to be careful not to fall ill themselves or infect others. Cultivate good health habits, such as washing hands even more regularly, holding a tissue in front of their face when they cough or sneeze. It will make them feel that to a certain extent they have control over their own health.
- Assure them that there are doctors, nurses and other health workers who help care for sick people constantly.
- Reassure them that things will return to normal: they will go to school and church once again, participate in their extramural activities, play with their friends, have a meal at their favourite restaurant and visit Granddad and Grandma.
- Maintaining a fixed routine (getting up, mealtimes, bedtime stories and time for schoolwork, playtime) creates a feeling of security.
- Reading them stories, playing games, listening to music or even making music together, chats and art or crafts let children feel cherished and in this way you forge a close family bond.
- Let older children still perform their daily household chores, and even more, especially during the absence of your domestic worker who is also with her own family during this time. Helping and being of service are good for everyone’s emotional wellbeing.
- Encourage older children to unload emotionally by writing about their experiences and feelings. When reading it a few years hence, they will be proud that they were part of events that actually made world history.
- Contact with grandparents and friends via WhatsApps (text, voice and video calls) lessens the longing and assures them that everyone is still healthy and safe.
- Be an example of hope and positivity for your children. It will encourage them and let them realise that this bad time will also come to an end. Even if everything might not be the same as before, things won’t necessarily be bad. Sometimes change after a crisis is in actual fact a good thing.
- Get professional help if it appears that, in spite of your support and encouragement, your child is struggling to handle the situation.
SADAG (South African Depression and Anxiety Group)
24 hour helpline: 0800 456 789
Contact a counsellor: Monday to Sunday: 08:00 to 20:00
Tel.: 011 234 4837
Counselling enquiries: E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
Bright Horizons. https://www.brighthorizons.com/family-resources/talking-to-children-about-covid19
Child Trends. https://www.childtrends.org/publications/resources-for-supporting-childrens-emotional-well-being-during-the-covid-19-pandemic
Fox News. https://foxbaltimore.com/sponsored/spotlight/tips-to-help-parents-talk-to-their-kids-about-covid-19
* All information was correct at the time of publication.