Children thrive on routine and therefore when the sudden lockdown happened in South Africa – this really placed them out of sorts. Picture Leon Lestrade. African News Agency/ANA.
Children thrive on routine and therefore when the sudden lockdown happened in South Africa – this really placed them out of sorts. Picture Leon Lestrade. African News Agency/ANA.

A year of Covid-19 in SA: finding solace after the pain and loss

By Opinion Time of article published Mar 5, 2021

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By Krsangi Radhe

I remember the day – 5 March 2020 – when the first case of Covid-19 was detected in South Africa.

I was invigilating the first term controlled tests, and during break, I looked at my cellphone and found news being shared that Covid-19 is now on South African shores. As I explained this to my learners, I could see their confusion.

They had little concept of what was going on – what was Covid-19. So much chatter went on in the classroom about, “a strange virus that was now close to us”.

Some learners laughed and thought it was all too funny, whilst others were more curious about it.

A year later, and here we are. Children have been affected by Covid-19 in ways that will tell later in their lives. Their world suddenly changed; I witnessed it first-hand. Before we knew it – term 1 assessments were complete and school had closed abruptly.

Parents (in most cases) did not receive their child’s term 1 report as schools closed, followed closely by a hard lockdown. South Africa was in shock – our children were in shock.

Sudden change of routine

Children thrive on routine and when the sudden lockdown happened in South Africa – this really placed them out of sorts. It was a routine of familiarity and comfort that was snatched from them – having now being asked to remain indoors, and social distance.

To the children – these were completely new concepts that were imposed upon them. Of course, the reaction and understanding to all of this is completely age dependent.

Parents themselves had to quickly adjust to a work-from-home routine, whilst others were also concerned about job security. This presented an additional stress factor within the home. Children became far more aware of financial pressures that were felt within the home.

Adjusting to the unusual way of teaching and learning

As we have all discovered, the South African education system has not been adequately equipped to deal with an online teaching and learning platform. This is not the system that our children are comfortable or accustomed too. Some schools have transitioned to an online teaching platform, whereas others were not able to make that move due to restrictive budgets and infrastructure.

Children were affected by the return to school – having to social distance, wear masks (even through assessments) and go to school on a rotational basis. This also presented itself as quite a daunting experience for those who were not as resilient (noting the uniqueness of every child).

The pressure to adapt to the new teaching and learning conditions as well as the uncertainty of the school calendar caused uneasiness within our children. Just as we tread through this academic year, we still find that our children may not be proficient in certain learning areas that were previously their strong points. This causes additional stress to the child, as they see how their marks have changed.

Screen time vs family time

Children have had to “fill up their days” at home and for many, the most comforting way has been to become engrossed in online activities. Gaming and watching YouTube videos can easily fill hours within the day. Before you know it, three solid hours have passed and the game continues.

This has caused quite a lot of tension within the home environment, with parents trying to enforce rules and schedules.

Children found their own space within the online sphere to fill in the gaps of their day. In some homes, parents have also had to allow for screen-time, as parents had to fill in work commitments and were understandably not available to keep their children busy throughout the day. The balance between online activity (over time spent on online school) and family time posed as a major challenge.

The brain responds negatively to too much online stimuli – the eyes being focussed on the screen for many hours creates discomfort and strain. This has a negative impact overall on the family unit.

Losing family / loved ones

A parent’s heart is tuned to keep their children safe and protected. During this pandemic, parents have felt helpless in trying to protect their children from the reality of life and death. The second wave of Covid-19 saw too many deaths of family and friends – with talk within the home of relatives of loved ones being ill, spending weeks in hospital and either making a recovery or turning for the worst.

The stress of watching online funerals of loved ones and not understanding the process of such funerals can also cause trauma for young children. Parents and homes were affected – the mindset of adults have affected the children and losing those who are close to you to a virus has caused distress.

On a sad note, many children have been orphaned during the pandemic. Loss of parents, without the complete solace of closure will have long-standing emotional and mental effects on children.

The younger generation has been exposed to such difficult times and complete devastation when family units were torn apart, parents passed away and god-parents have had to step in to create a new safe environment. The effects of such trauma will have long standing impact on a child – professional help should be sought in these situations.

A lack of socialisation and exercise

Children are active beings! Having their freedom to play and socialise taken away, places them in a peculiar position. The lack of exercise and possible binge eating has not been good for their overall well-being. For much of last year, many children were not able to celebrate birthdays with parties as they are used to.

This in itself (although maybe something small and simple for adults) has been a shift for children. Unable to hug a friend, or run around the play field are all “unknowns” for the young ones.

Watching teachers wear masks and often walk about with a sanitiser at hand can also be confusing. The young bodies and minds have had to adjust at so many levels – taking in so much, processing and trying to make sense and adjust to it all.

HERE IS HOW WE CAN HELP

Listen with love

Children seek our attention. This has been something that children long for – and when parents are too busy or too tired, children feel that they cannot approach their parents to have a chat. More often than not – all it takes to comfort a child is a warm hug and words of encouragement.

Going through the motions of their day, talking about what upsets them and just listening as they talk – will offer that special comfort that a parent or care-giver can provide. Do not be judgemental or dismiss their feelings.

It is easy to shift focus by dismissing the feelings of a child – and this can cause long term harm. Just by offering time to your child – you will find that they will feel more at ease and resilience. This time should be without distraction – just focussed on a one-on-one with your child.

Encourage your child

Always share hope! Something that I remind children is, “With every sunrise there is renewed hope.”

Children look upon adults for solace and hope. Sometimes life does seem confusing – and it is the responsibility of the adult to help their child. Use positive words of encouragement and help them to keep going. Show love and empathy through your words.

Always remind your child to try their best – their best is good enough, do not compare them to other children (especially during this time).

Seek professional help

There is no stigma attached to seeking professional help to guide your child through post-traumatic stress experienced during the pandemic.

Rather, seek professional help now than wait for months and years to pass only to realise that the stress of the pandemic has hit your child so hard that it has had long-standing negative effects.

Book an appointment with a certified coach or a mental health professional who will be able to have the tools and techniques to help your child through this difficult period.

Go easy on your child

Offer your child just a little more space and comfort during this time. Instead of having expectations (especially of academic high standards per pre-Covid-19) understand that this difficult time could have impacted on your child’s ability.

Give your child space to grow during this time and encourage them to keep going. If you identify, that there is a permanent downward spiral – then take action by chatting to your child’s teacher about ways that you can work together to help.

Encourage, embrace and empower

Empower your child with knowledge and information on the pandemic. Although a year has passed, there is new information about the virus and the vaccination processes. Although the vaccine roll-out may not directly affect children, it is important that parents share this information with them.

By chatting to your child about the pandemic – they will feel safer. It is always better to hear information from a trusted adult rather than watching it on news or reading it online.

The power of gratitude

With all the stress attached to the pandemic and the trauma caused – there is always something that we can take away from it all. The power of gratitude is a long-standing friend who will not fall. Gratitude for every day, and everything else (big and small) in our lives is key to maintaining overall emotional well- being.

A family that prays together, does stay together – delve deeper into your spiritual consciousness and use this time to teach your child the power of being grateful. This is a wonderful tool that will have long-lasting positive effect on your child. This will empower them to stand through anxiety and always find gratitude in their heart.

Krsangi Radhe is a neuro-linguistic programming practitioner, time line therapist and certified life coach. She is also an educator in the public sector, public relations practitioner, author and motivational speaker. She can be reached on [email protected] or visit her website www.sankalpacoaching.co.za

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