Dr Herbert Zirima
The COVID-19 lockdown stipulates that people should stay at home and observe set regulations to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown therefore presents an opportunity for parents and guardians to be closer to their children and to understand them better. The need for parents to be closer to their children is more important now than ever because children are generally going through stressful times. Parents need to realize that the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown could be depressing and stressful to the children just as it is to them. Children get stressed and depressed but most adults do not realize that or they think it will soothe away. In this article, we want to see the role that parents can play to help their children cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown. It is important to note that children’s daily lives were disturbed well before that of adults. Schools were unceremoniously closed on the 24th of March 2020 and they will most likely remain closed well after the lockdown. Children are anxious about exams, that is, whether they will write this year and if so, will they be ready for them. The social life of most children is tied to the school environment and this lockdown has disrupted that as well. The rules of the lockdown entail that playing with friends is interrupted, social life and holiday visits are disrupted. This background should give you a picture that children are just as anxious and stressed as you are about the lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic.
I am of the opinion that the major task of parents during this period that the whole world is fighting to contain the spread of the coronavirus is to help children to cope. Here are some few tips for parents to help children to cope:-
Manage your own stress effectively- we can never be able to fully help a person to cope when we are stressed ourselves. This is the most important thing to do to ensure that as parents we are in the right state of mind to help our children to sail through the lockdown period.
Help children to understand – do not take it for granted that the child understands what COVID-19 is. Clearly explain to them how the virus emerged and how it spreads and what needs to be done to stop its spread. Explain to them why it is necessary to wash their hands regularly and with soap. Explain to them the necessity of the lockdown, the social distancing and all the regulations put in place to contain the spread of the virus. Take time to ensure they understand. For younger children, you may need to use illustrations from what they already know to make them understand.
Put in place some schedules – It is important to make daily routines and teach your children to follow them. Without a daily schedule, life can be very disorderly and stressful especially when we do not know for how long exactly our lives will return to their ‘normal’ state. Children and young people’s lives are punctuated with school time, family time, meal times, play time and bed time. Some of these routines are usually controlled by the School and sometimes by maids. This lockdown means that you now have to take charge and ensure that you not only see that the routine is followed but you get time to understand your child. This period presents an opportunity for parents to get to understand their children. Make an effort to be involved in all their activities from play, schoolwork up to bed time. In bed time, tell them stories that help to build resilience, patience and good character.
Teach them some skills – The lockdown presents a wonderful opportunity for parents to get to teach their children new skills. Make this period valuable by shifting the attention from COVID-19 to teaching your child something that they will always use in their life. Teach them some simple skills like cooking, some new recipes, something in the garden, in the garage etc. Keep them occupied and make this period valuable to them and to you.
Reassure and comfort – The good parent acts as their child’s source of comfort and reassurance in this period of uncertainty. Be positive in your explanations to them about what is going on. Remember they watch the news and listen to adult conversations, they hear about people falling ill and dying. Assure them that all will be well as long as they observe the given regulations. Help them to develop resilience and perseverance as this is much needed especially with different information about the pandemic coming from different directions. With resilience they will be able to accept and handle any situation well. Teach them to view challenges positively
Maximize physical contact where possible- Children just like adults are often soothed by touch. Touch calms the heart rate, and allows children to feel safe, so we can expect them to be more clingy and in need of affection at such unsettling times. It is therefore important to maximize physical contact as much as is possible; give your children hugs, cuddle them, show them that you are there for them. Touch can also give a child sense of security.
Continue with school work – whilst schools have closed, learners can continue to study at home either through online means or through reading their textbooks. As a parent you need to help your child continue with their education so that when schools reopen they will be fresh and even ahead of the syllabus. Some schools have instituted online methods of learning. Some teachers make use of WhatsApp groups to assist their learners; all these should be utilized to ensure that children continue with their schoolwork. As much as is possible, give your children some tasks and help them through the tasks. For secondary school learners, they probably know what is required of them and while you may not be competent to assist them in their subjects, you can still motivate them. Motivate them to keep studying and shift their focus from COVID-19 to their studies. Build their resilience by telling them how they have overcome previous challenges or how other people have gone past challenges, tell them about successful people who have worked hard in difficult times to succeed.
Let the children play – Children express themselves through play, they interact and relieve stress through play. Play is a very integral part in the development of children. For those who are fortunate to have space in their yards, let the children go out and play. Even if they cannot play with their friends, they can still enjoy playtime. If you do not have a compound where the children can play outside, allow them to play indoors and once they are done, take an opportunity to teach them how to clean themselves. For older children, their gratification may come from interacting with their friends; this again is not possible in this lockdown. You may need to facilitate that they keep connected with their peers through the phone. Partake in games with your children. Those games that you can engage in as a family will help in bonding the children with their parents. Taking part in play with your child will help your child to develop social skills in spite of the absence of other friends.
Answer their questions – Younger children have questions and in times of uncertainty, they actually have multiple questions. Be patient to answer all of them even if you have answered some of them before. Be careful also on the way you answer these questions and make sure you give them the correct information. Younger children tend not to forget what they have been told or answers they have been given for their questions. This is their way of understanding the world around them so you need to be patient with them.
Finally, in all the uncertainty and gloom that this COVID-19 pandemic has brought, remember you are your child’s source of hope. Be positive, remain optimistic, explain things to them and reassure them that this will come to pass and life will be back to normal.
(Dr Zirima is a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Great Zimbabwe University, and a State Registered Educational Psychologist. He is also a consultant with Mhuri-Umndeni Family Wellness Initiative. He can be contacted at email@example.com)