Recently there’s been an emphasis on child mental health, childhood abuse, parenting and adolescents. Globally, it is estimated that 10% to 20% of children and adolescents are affected by mental health disorders.
In South Africa research suggests that a lack of intersectoral collaboration on mental health has resulted in children falling through the cracks. Mental health needs of children in SA are sorely neglected, say some of our experts.
While the areas of mental health and raising children in this era are most challenging at these times, as prophetic voices it’s vital that we look for solutions and not join in the list of problem damming.
What will our children say?
What will our children remember of this Covid time? We can create good memories even when things are rough. The extraordinary events of our childhoods stay with us forever. They have a special status in our memories.
This pandemic – more than most events any of us can remember — will stay with our children forever. It is taking place over weeks and months, and it is changing every aspect of daily life. It is more like wartime than anything in our collective memories.
And we know from history and social science that children remember the way war changed their lives. What will our children remember of this time? What will their story of Covid-19 be? Will it be a story of things breaking apart or of resilience?
Did we hold things together?
So, what do people cherish the most when they think back to their childhood during the Covid-19 war?
We hope they will remember that we held things together, that even tough life was different and hard, everything was ok. Children rely on our stability as adults, our emotional presence, and our reassurance. Even when we do fall apart. And we get back to being ourselves. We repair. That way they don’t have to add “losing” a parent to the list of things that changed with Covid-19
We’d like them to remember that we never gave up hope. Now, none of us can see how this is going to end. We are all uncertain of what the new normal will actually be. But children do not have the bandwidth for any of this. They need to know they will go back to school, they will see their friends, they will see grandma and grandpa, go to the familiar places that bring them joy like the park, the zoo, and a simple thing like stop and have an ice cream.
It’s ok if it got messy
We want them to remember that even though they missed grandpa’s birthday and couldn’t have a sleepover with their cousins, they talked to them all the time on WhatsApp. They even learned how to FaceTime on their own! In this time of disrupted connections, they need to know that everyone that matters to them is fine and right there. It’s a time when they and us need to know that birthday parties on zoom are just as special as a drive past or drive in birthday party.
And we want them to remember some of the good surprises that came with Covid-19: more time with their parents, the big cake dad baked, the pancakes they made for the first time, the way mom let them help with her paperwork and sending off merchandise for her, movie night altogether with heaps of popcorn.
It was the age of the virus. Perhaps they will remember draping blankets and sheets across the furniture to create forts and castles or even hospitals in various rooms of the house. These spaces became secret areas away from peering adults where you could play and giggle in private.
Our dining room table houses many a story where all the toys were given a new home under the roof of a simple white sheet. Do you and your children have a place where they have rebuilt a safe place made from and old cardboard box?
When many people think back to their childhood, they reminisce about their family history, grandparents, long summers, freer days, lots of friends and adventures, scary moments, dares, firsts, bests, and worsts.
Your favourite story
Was there a story you made your mother or father read to you over and over again? You may have known the story so well that you were bursting with anticipation as each word was read aloud. What connected you to that story? And how did the story or author appeal to you? Our children loved the adventures created by my husband’s imagination in which Queen Naftie Puttie played a lead role.
A favourite stuffed animal
Sometimes when you were a kid nothing brought more comfort to you than holding onto a precious stuffed animal, blanket or pillow. It was always there for you when you needed it and stayed right by your side all night long. Those comfort items might have helped your children through some tough times during Covid.
A childhood pet
Our pets can bring so much joy and solace to our lives. You might have enjoyed rolling around on the floor with your dog, cuddling with your cat or playing with other pets. They’re always there for you, they never talk back, and you certainly never fought about anything. Names of pets are so significant to a child. As is the responsibility of caring for the pet. Besides the responsibilities there’s the life cycles that are learnt with pets. A bittersweet memory we have, is one of holding a memorial service for a hamster Haffity late at night in the middle of winter.
In SA during lockdown Saturdays took on a unique meaning, in that meant no online school and an entire morning of crazy, over-the-top cartoon watching. Or a flurry of rushing to the shops, sneaking a visit to the relatives, getting your hair braided and doing all the laundry.
Sundays during Covid were a time of finger’s crossed “did the president move us up a level or down” because it meant we could put on our smart clothes and masks and all pack in the car and head out to church.
Getting a sticker meant you were healthy and could go into church and sing praises. Crazy thing, we couldn’t sing like before with our masks, but it was good to be together. We weren’t allowed to touch or hug each other in case the virus got us.
When we looked around it was strange cause the people who used to be there just somehow stopped coming. We didn’t talk about it much, but we heard some of them talk and say the virus took them. Children who were secure in their journeys with Christ could easily say ‘she’s gone to live with Jesus forever’
Your parents’ favourite music
The great part of time together with our parents is we got to hear their favourite music. That’s because they’d play it over and over again. What music do you remember your parents listening to, singing to or dancing to when you grew up or during Covid?
I fondly remember dancing with my cousins and learning to do the “twist”. Later the “waltz” was easily mastered on top my fathers’ shoes. Only a few days ago our grandchildren had a sleep over and we engaged in a memorable dance before bedtime. Their little hearts were full of happiness and joy and ours were bursting with sheer delight.
The early days of Covid placed restrictions on playing outside. So being let out to play in the garden was the most freedom one could experience. When the restrictions lifted to be able to ride one’s bike up to the park felt like a holiday supreme.
Trips to the beach
It’s not surprising that many fond childhood memories involve sun, sand, and surf—and probably a sunburn too. The summers seemed to last forever when we were younger. Perhaps you had a summer getaway with just your immediate family, or you shared that time with extended family as well. I recall each wave as a mighty force to be conquered I would dive into the waves and wrestle the bubbles and sand trusting I would emerge safely in the right direction. Hours were my enemy as I needed a day to subdue this mighty ocean. Did your family have any other summer traditions?
For whatever reason, children often like to collect things. You may have collected toy cars, dolls, rocks, bugs, flowers, a particular kind of animal, coins, stamps or other things. What drew you to your collection? Do you think the memory of Covid and the collection will be good? Most collections are reflections of your identity, it says so much about your hopes and dreams.
Playing hide and seek
There’s a reason this game has been around since the beginning of time. It’s fun to hide and to be found, and it’s fun to seek. It’s also fun if you discover a hiding spot where no one finds you. What do you remember about playing hide and seek? Even though Covid is here it’s the simple games of “do I still count?” that have stood the test of time.
What did you do when you were bored? You probably climbed a tree. There was nothing like hoisting yourself up on that first branch and climbing up as high as you could go. Then you could sit and enjoy the bird’s-eye view. Perhaps you enjoyed the solitude of being high above the ground by yourself.
Or perhaps you liked to spy on those down below. Did you have a favourite tree that you loved to climb? We had a very tall pine tree from which we held competitions to see who Tarzan was. One would have to take hold of the very prickly rope and swing across the garden and scream “Tarzan” with the grand finale being a land in a rock garden. If you cried, you failed. Well, I never made it to the finals and I never liked the movie Tarzan either.
The ice cream truck
Ahh, the sweet sounds of summer… the birds singing, splashing in the water, children playing, and the ice cream truck! Who can forget the sound of the ice cream truck coming down your street and the scramble to find money… and quick, someone get out there so the truck doesn’t pass us by? And there was probably no sweeter taste than a carefully chosen ice cream treat fresh off the truck. During Covid there was no sound of the Ice Cream truck, did you ever wonder what happened to Mr Frostie?
When you spend a large amount of time with anyone, you’re bound to get into a few fights — especially children trying to jockey for position within a family and with each other. Did you squabble a lot as children or tease each other out of spite? How did your parents settle the skirmish? Or did it end in a yelling match of doors slamming and tears?
Getting in trouble
It was probably commonplace to get in trouble at home. But most people remember vividly, at least the first time, that they got in trouble outside of their own home or family. Perhaps it was at school, at church, at a friend’s house or at another public place. What happened? Did you have a punishment? How did the experience change you? Oh my golly I felt so ashamed and angry. Looking back with my years of experience, I think the teachers could have been less draconian.
Covid-19 and children’s mental health
‘The Children’s Institute at UCT in collaboration with the Children’s Hospital Trust and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation developed a series of advocacy briefs focusing, among others, on the impact of Covid-19 and the mental health of children. The briefs were released in August.
The advocacy brief on Mental Health and Wellness observed that there have been few studies on the mental health of children and adolescents during the pandemic.
“Much of the data we have comes from studies on the general population and these data show a rise in anxiety, with impacts rated as moderate to severe. In a long-term follow-up study of children and young people in England in 2020, more than 25% reported sleep disruptions, while almost 20% of children with a probable mental health problem stated that they were fearful of leaving the house because of Covid-19.
“Based on experience of other humanitarian crises and epidemics such as HIV, it is likely that there will be long-term and enduring mental health impacts on children, such as sleep problems, separation anxiety and aggressiveness,” stated the advocacy brief.
De Vries says he has not seen numbers from South Africa of mental health disorders during Covid-19, but there has probably been an increase.
“In European countries and elsewhere this seems to be the case. We have no reason to believe South Africa will be any [different],” he says.
Patel says: “Social isolation, ongoing lockdown regulations resulting in limited movement, closure of schools, halting of extracurricular activities, breaking down established routine, and also limited access to support systems have exposed the mental health vulnerabilities of young children and adolescents.”
She adds that parents and adults now working from home have created a home environment often filled with stress and anxiety as parents juggle work and family commitments.
“Parental support is extremely important to children and adolescents. Parents need to spend more time with children and adolescents explaining the pandemic and what is happening around us as we lose loved ones, teachers and friends.
“We also need to be mindful of the needs of children to remain in contact with friends via social media and allow them space and freedom to interact with peers.”
She notes that not all families have access to data, so alternate means of relaxation need to be found, like playing board games and getting children involved in preparing meals and spending fun time together.
But, reminds De Vries, “even in pre-Covid times the mental health of children and adolescents was a highly neglected area. Covid has just exacerbated all of it and in clinical settings, we are now dealing with very high levels of distressed young people and with very high rates of mental health disorders.” DM/MC
Extract from article produced by Spotlight – health journalism in the public interest
The future of our children
South Africa has only about 50 child and adolescent psychiatrists, and most of them work in the private sector which limits the numbers of people able to access them. The mental health of children and adolescents are therefore very poorly identified and treated in South Africa.
I propose there is great scope for the Body of Christ to arise with ways to bring about healings in families. To help restore the balances that are so critically needed. Life skills are needed to be taught by those that understand them well. Art therapy that brings healing and hope is a tool as is music therapy. In our nation dance is in our bones and to allow movement and dance to come though as a means of healing is vital for our youth. There is a great brain drain in the medical profession and clearly if God is calling our youth into this area there are enormous needs both in SA and on the continent. It is no longer a profession of prestige but a calling.
The arena of professional teaching needs to be filled with those who are called and trained, and I would like to propose have basic understanding of how the mind works in order to assist development of the child. Teaching is an honourable profession and needs to be administered as such.
The pain of Covid must be addressed and delt with but let’s not dose our children up with pill after pill until we’ve given them a chance to talk and cry out the pain of their loss. After all its their future they’re feeling.
Workshops for parents on how to handle their children in this Covid pandemic is critical. Not just the simple handwashing mask wearing ones, but how to understand your child is vital.
Parents have undergone so much stress with juggling the school, work home family covid balls that many feel that they are on the verge of snap.
Time management, stress management conflict management and pain management and loss management are some of the names that come though to us from people. Its highly recommended that parents consider upskilling themselves to have better communication processes with their children, understand their children and spouses and themselves in order to lessen the extreme stress that we all find ourselves facing in this Covid war.
Help is here
Edify-Me-you-See by Madz Deyzel BA (Hon) London School of Theology & Waverly Christian Counselling Centre UK. Courses offered on Facebook. EQ, Grief Care, Effective Conversations, Medication & Mental Health and a few more.
Life Coaching with deep inner work in your Mind, Body, Heart & Spirit, that shifts major areas of your life, brings alignment in relationships, vision, and takes you to higher ways of living that change the game for you. @misskatealexandra, www.katealexandra.co.za
Ref in article on Mental health: Spotlight – Health journalism – Daily Maverick
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