Families - Helping Us Build Resilience
Mahlatse Diale - Social Worker
The past few weeks have proven to be challenging, as each individual in the country and across the world has been greatly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Restrictions to help overcome the pandemic have meant that individuals have spent less time doing what they would normally do. At the same time, individuals providing essential services have had to go to work, knowing the risks to their own health and that of those closest to them. It is impossible to deny the emotional and mental strain that this has had on everyone. Restrictions have also meant that many individuals have not been able to work and as a result have lost partial or full incomes. This has created more strain on families that have been trying to survive and some may feel that they are barely making it.
Similarly, schools and universities were shut down to help protect the students and their teachers. This meant that for the first time for most families, they were faced with a challenge that affected them as a whole, in different ways but all at the same time. They had to stay together at home, with very little freedom of movement outside of the home. Parents needed to be more involved with their children's schooling; becoming their children's teachers. At the same time, they were expected to learn how to deal with their children's difficulties with school and learning, all within a new and unfamiliar learning environment. Home used to be for family quality time and completing homework, and many other non-school related tasks, but this has changed. It may have been frustrating for both parents and children having to work together on this. This would have been exacerbated by the trauma of having to survive and cope with the emotional pressures that already existed, which is why self-awareness is so important.
Self-awareness plays a vital role in helping people navigate such challenges. Self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of one’s own character and feelings. This involves a variety of skills and emotions. It is therefore important that parents are aware of their own emotions, attitude and the way they speak to their children when discussing school work because this will affect how the child responds to them. This being said, it is also important to be aware of the child’s emotions and their interaction with their parents and completing school work. Some children will struggle more than others with the adjustment - that is okay, as long as they receive encouragement and praise when they attempt to complete or do better at a specific a task. This will build on their self-esteem as they learn to adapt and do things in a new way. For older children, it is important that they are part of the planning for their own learning. Being able to have a say allows them to take ownership and be responsible for what they have committed themselves to.
Emotions and Accompanying Behaviors
Children generally display their emotions through their behaviour and may not always know how to articulate them. Parents plays a key role in setting the example for communicating how one might feel. Parents can start by speaking about their own fears, concerns and worries about what is happening. It could be a simple as saying, “I know that I push you to get all your school work done and this is because I am afraid you will not pass the grade and this will upset me so much”. Parents may have recognised some unexpected behaviours from their children during the past few weeks. These may have included their child becoming clingy, teary, fearful, forgetful, absent-minded, demotivated, having temper tantrums and maybe anger outbursts. While this can be distressing for parents and caregivers, it can be helpful to view these as responses to the current and ongoing stressors.
How can you help your family cope with these challenging times? Engage in comforting conversations and activities.
Let the child share their story by drawing and/or writing (if they’re old enough), and have a discussion about this afterwards
Allow younger children, who may not be able to speak about how they are feeling or what they think of what is happening, to express their feelings through play. Small children may not understand that there is a virus that is making people afraid, but they are aware that something has changed. They too can express the changes they have seen.
Parents can ask children about what they have heard and/or seen or read on social media and the news about that is happening, and ask their child to share their thoughts and feelings
Remember to first listen to your child before correcting them, objecting or sharing a different opinion.
Increased conflict within families during this time is common. This is because people are sharing the same space for extended periods of time with limited opportunity to get away. The stress and emotional strain associated with the virus, fear of illness and death, as well as all of the other changes they have to deal with at the same time. Furthermore, pre-existing issues that have been suppressed or brushed over can resurface and may have to be dealt with. This can make this time feel unbearable when the affected individuals do not have the necessary skills to effectively manage conflict.
Effective communication is a key factor in managing any form of conflict. It is important to note that communication involves words, tone of voice, volume as well as non-verbal ques (facial expressions and body language). It is important to communicate ones concerns with words, in a way that can be understood by others. It is also important to empathically listen to what the other person would like to communicate. Taking your time to listen to one other, responding with thought can provide important opportunity to resolve ongoing and current challenges in relationships. Now is an opportunity to practice communication skills by looking back and planning forward.
It may be useful to reflect on lockdown together as a family. Acknowledging successes as well as shortcomings will help to build understanding and resilience. It is important to recognise that each family member has perhaps reacted differently and processed the lockdown in their own way. Being able to look back on how things were done and which things could have been addressed differently will enable the family to think together and improve on such things.
The country is currently preparing for schools and increased work places to re-open, and this may have challenges of its own. Things are definitely not going back to what we were used to, however, there is hope in this. Children are going to have to adjust to a new way of doing school and interacting with their peers and the world. Families will once again play an important role in how children approach and process this ‘new normal’. It is therefore a vital time to have conversations within the family unit regarding how they may be feeling. Continuing these conversations in the next few weeks and months will help families keep in tune with one another and to have the necessary support to come out strong, secure and well adjusted.
Lockdown has provided unique challenges to the mental health of families, and while many of us have dealt with everything the best way we know how, it is important to be aware that some people may have found themselves feeling overwhelmed more than ever before, and may have struggled to cope with the new way of being. This may also be true for children, who will also be experiencing a number of emotions. These emotions could be heightened with the upcoming changes and lack of certainty. For some, this may be a time to seek out professional support to help families adjust and cope. For others, turning to family may be enough. Families play a vital role in instilling values, giving guiding principles of how to approach the world and view one’s ability to succeed. They help one another to deal with difficulties, face fears and express one's emotions, and ultimately, build resilience.
JPCCC endeavours to support families during Covid-19! Reach out to us - www.jpccc.org.za