MUSA and Obinna are both 10-year-old and good friends who live in the same neighbourhood. They were about writing the second term exams in school when schools were shut and they were sent home, all because of the Corona virus they say.
Now they can’t even sneak out to play football on the street or visit each other. But Daddy still goes out to work and Mummy goes shopping once a week. It was initially very nice but their respective houses now feel like a prison. They can only communicate using their respective mothers’ phone, and they both concluded that perhaps, it was the adults wanting to punish all their children, since the adults were still going out. However, Musa conceded that his parents looked very scared of this COVID-19.
He had never seen them so scared in his life. Obinna agreed and added that the day he attempted to sneak out, his mother was so upset she immediately wore gloves and gave him a bath from head to toe. She scrubbed so hard at his skin that he cried at the end of the day.
Tunde used to be a very loving and responsible eight-year-old boy who was always diligent with his studies. As an only child, he was very outgoing and had many friends in school. He absolutely looked forward to going to school everyday, and to summer classes during school holidays. However, since schools were shut and everyone ordered to stay at home, he had become increasingly miserable and lonely.
His parents barely had time for him and his play station was not so much fun without friends to play with. It’s as if the world as he knew it. Suddenly turned upside down and he simply did not understand what was going on. He was confused and upset. He became moody and clingy, but his mother was also stressed and she simply told him to ‘stop behaving like a baby.
He started throwing tantrums and became rude and destructive. His mother didn’t know what had come over him. But she was having none of it and would not spare the rod and allow her only child become a spoilt brat….she resolved.
As adults, we may overlook the emotional needs of children and their own frustrations with the enforced school shutdowns as well as stay- at-home instructions and other restrictions. It is important that their feelings are heard and that we provide them with emotional support. So, what can we do?
- Pay attention to them and try to understand their perspectives. Encourage them to talk, in one-on-one sessions with each child, or together as a group if you are sure no child will be overshadowed into silence. Let them freely express their understanding, frustrations, anxieties and fears.
- Provide practical explanations and clarify any misunderstandings they may have about the situation.
- Put a positive slant and emphasize the benefits such as spending more time with each other as family, bonding together and having personalized conversations.
- Translate the stay- at-home time to generating positive and enduring family memories. Prepare and organize family activities – games, learning together, praying together, exercising together etc.
- Promote fun activities and don’t be insistent on academic learning all of the time. Their all-round development and coping skills is more important than academic grades alone. Try to instil soft skills such as good manners and courtesy, emotional intelligence, resilience and coping strategies in them You can use storytelling or download materials from the internet.
- Parents may also be struggling themselves and be at their wit’s end as to how best to keep the children occupied. Structure works wonders with children. Try to organize a schedule that guides the daily activities for the week. Involve them in preparing it – so they have a sense of ownership.
- They will be watching your emotional reactions and will take a cue from it. Musa and Obinna above knew their parents were scared. Tunde knew his mother was cranky and stressed. If you are irritable and screaming at everyone, they will copy and emulate you in that regard too. So, try and stay calm and rational in your behaviour.
- Make sure they understand the rationale for the stay-at- home and other preventive strategies such as regular hand washing. Teach them to do it properly.
- Adults should also pace themselves and get some rest. If you are stressed out and overwhelmed, you are more likely to be irritable and poor company.
- Make your home a loving and safe environment for you and your children to be comfortable and to flourish with their unique and individual strengths. This should be a family team-building time-out, from the usual frenetic pace of life.