Children’s wellbeing blind spot amid the pandemic

Intentional parenting vital

An upset little girl hugs a teddy bear, avoiding her father.
An upset little girl hugs a teddy bear, avoiding her father.
Image: 123RF

According to the State of the World’s Children 2021 Unicef report, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the mental wellness of children and raised various concerns.

As a result of the pandemic, 13% of children are likely to live with a mental disorder. Moreover, a study conducted by the Mental Health Foundation shows that 75% of children and young people who experience mental health challenges are not getting the assistance they need.

“The mental wellbeing of children is very important. As adults, we tend to think that children are okay and that they’re getting by. We don’t really notice where things aren’t going well for them,” says Dumisile Nala, the national executive officer of Childline SA.

From having to embrace online learning to not being able to visit relatives or even see their friends, the new normal required of children to understand and adapt to new changes.

It has been a time of much uncertainty and anxiety caused by a variety of factors. The closure of schools is among those at the top of the list. School is an integral part of a child’s life. After the family unit, it serves as the second protection system for their growth, development and wellbeing.

Any major disturbance to schooling, as seen during the hard lockdown, can impact heavily on the wellness of a child.

“Not going to school made me feel sad because I could not see my friends and teachers. It was difficult learning online and I am excited now that I am able to go to school,” says 11-year-old Seetsa Mashego.

Viwe Moni-Mashego and daughters Seetsa, 11, and Moeta, 9.
Viwe Moni-Mashego and daughters Seetsa, 11, and Moeta, 9.
Image: Supplied

Though anxious about what the near future holds during this uncertain time, the grade 5 pupil from Benoni, on the East Rand, is grateful that the country is currently not under a hard lockdown.

This allows her to enjoy life’s most meaningful pleasures such as playing with her friends, visiting her grandmother and going out for ice cream with her family.

Her nine-year-old sibling, Moeta Mashego, who is grateful for a little bit of normality while also hopeful that the schooling programme will never again be disrupted the way it was, shares similar sentiments.

“I prefer going to school because staying at home is not that nice. I like communicating with other children and learning new things. Having to wear a mask all the time does not feel that exciting because it’s not comfortable,” she says.

Intentional parenting amid pandemic uncertainty

The road to parenting can be quite meandering. Add to that a dash of pandemic anxiety and the uncertainty of these changing times and you have yourself a challenge and a half.

Seetsa and Moeta's mother, Viwe Moni-Mashego, tries her best each day to be very intentional about protecting the mental wellness of her daughters.

“In my home, we talk about everything. Openness is key. As a parent, I always sit them down and find out how they’re feeling. I even ask them if there’s anything I’m doing as a parent that they’re not happy with. I also ensure that I listen to their side of the story. As parents, we sometimes tend to be the ones giving out instructions without listening to what the children want.”

Holding up space for young ones

Besides the effects of the pandemic, the mental wellness of children can also be affected by a number of traumatic incidents.

“Issues of violence within the home, bullying and the hardships faced by parents can all be traumatic and have an effect on the wellbeing of children even later in life.

“For example, exposure to domestic violence may cause some children to end up being violent themselves. We really need to think carefully about the long-term impact of trauma and support our children accordingly,” says Nala.

Ultimately, the relationship between parent and child remains important, especially now when many children are in need of support for their overall wellness.

Dumisile Nala.
Dumisile Nala.
Image: Supplied

While there is no one-size-fits-all method to parenting, knowing your child and communicating with them goes a long way. Once you are able to identify that your child is going through something, you are able to get them the necessary assistance.  

“Getting help is not a sign of weakness. Sometimes having a conversation with a counsellor or social worker can help you find ways of dealing with things. The Childline number (116) is also available free of charge to both parents and children,” says Nala.

Signs to look out for  

Detecting that your child is experiencing mental health challenges may not always be easy. According to Childline SA, the following may be indicators that your young one needs help:

  • Changed behaviour and sudden introversion;
  • Drastic change of attitude;
  • Loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed;
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too often;
  • Lack of enthusiasm;
  • Persistent sadness;
  • Change in eating habits;
  • Difficulty concentrating and poor school performance; and
  • Withdrawing from or avoidance of social interactions.

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