How to support your children during Covid-19
- Dr Ajwang' Warria, Wits Department of Social Work
Strategies for parents to engage with their children at home during Covid-19 lockdown.
The national lockdown as a result of the coronavirus started in South Africa at 23:59 on Thursday, 26 March. Exposure to uncertainty has heightened anxiety levels and stretched the care and protection mechanisms normally provided at home.
Children, in particular, are vulnerable to the extraordinary circumstances of lockdown, social distancing, and a global pandemic.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) indicates special obligations for the caregivers of children in times similar to these. The best interest principle stresses that children should be assisted and protected at all times and their developmental needs met.
Covid-19 presents parents and caregivers an opportunity to deepen their participation in the lives of their children, mitigate harmful consequences and thereby safeguard their children's futures.
The impact that the coronavirus might have on children will vary and their responses could be influenced by factors such as gender, social support, age, inherent resilience, and level of exposure to the virus. What remains evident is that children tend to rely on parents for their emotional needs. Thus, parents (and any primary caregivers) can play a crucial central role as children’s sources of safety, security, and information.
The family is one of the most important systems of a child’s life. The collective nature of care that happens within the home setting is crucial, as many people, including children, look to their family for support when they face challenges. Social and cultural factors influence the care that people give and receive within these networks of care.
Here are some strategies for parents to engage with their children at home during Covid-19 lockdown. These strategies are drawn from a published study, which investigated strategies used by parents in Kenya to support children during terrorism acts:
- Engage the child in open conversations using a language that the child can understand. Avoiding discussions may make the child more fearful and anxious. During the lockdown, remember that parents might be the only available support to the child. However, this support could also (be nurtured to) include older siblings, grandparents, teachers, etc. who can be accessed online.
- As parents/caregivers, manage your own anxieties, which will help your children cope. Your well-being is imperative to your children’s wellbeing and recovery, as children sometimes regulate their own emotions based on the emotional response of their parents/caregivers.
- Answer your children’s questions. The kinds of questions asked by children range from issues of safety, access to medical care, recovery, death, schooling, friends, teachers, pets, etc. Parents should respond both to their children’s anxieties (emotionally, by providing reassurance) and to the question itself. Children can ask difficult questions, but parents should not shy away from answering. Do not give a child false information – rather provide reassurance and let your child know that you will look up accurate information and share it with them. Children’s questions are essential. Questioning permits children to exercise their right to participation on matters concerning them.
- Listen! Children need to make sense of things happening around them. The ability of parents/caregivers to actively and intently listen to their child is crucial. Parents/caregivers who are constantly glued to their cell phones for coronavirus updates might miss the opportunity to provide the secure base needed for children to take risks and ask frightening questions.
- Provide accurate, factual information. Generally, children might not have clear, factual information. It is vital that parents/caregivers help children to understand what is happening, i.e., tell the real story reassuringly and holistically. This also presents an opportunity to rectify any incorrect information or misconceptions your children might have heard about or read.
- Covid-19- related events have altered the way we do and see things. Thus, it is important to maintain a daily routine. Performing everyday activities as far is possible is vital, as this routine provides the structure that children rely on. By maintaining familiar schedules, based on age, gender and culture, children can establish normalcy, which will reduce their anxieties.
- Monitor exposure to media. Continuous repetitions of Covid-19 news in any form risks re-traumatising or causing secondary trauma to children. Protect your children from what you think and know would exacerbate their anxieties and that which is unhelpful towards their healing.
- Help build resilience in your children by facilitating play, nurturing care and celebrating survival with them on an on-going basis. Resilience can go a long way post-Covid-19.
- Consider and plan for the worst-case-scenario. Parents/caregivers need to think about and work out alternative care arrangements for their children, should the parents/caregivers fall ill or die. Discuss these arrangements with children (reassuringly!) in an age-appropriate manner and with those identified and expected to provide care.
- Look after yourself. Care for parents/caregivers is also vital. Engage in a relaxing activity and check-in with other parents. Share problem-solving strategies and support each other towards for effective childcare. These safe spaces enable parents/caregivers to talk about their own Covid-19-related (parenting) challenges and pain. Parents/caregivers need to monitor their own mental health and, if they have difficulties caring for their children, seek professional help.
Department of Health – Covid-19 webpage
South African Depression and Anxiety Group
National Institute for Communicable Diseases