At Sunday afternoon lunch, we were still light heartedly discussing the issue of COVID-19. Trying to explain to one another how the virus worked in the body, reiterating hygiene practices, practicing odd gestures for greetings, guessing what measures would be announced by our president later that evening, philosophizing over life and death, trying to understand the impact of this virus among an already vulnerable people group, and still finding ways to explain all that was necessary to our children, for their safety without causing fear.
While I was well aware of the pandemic around the world, it doesn’t quite land with the heaviness it warrants until it’s in your back yard. Watching the news from around the world, even seeing posts on social media from friends abroad, watching the count of confirmed cases rise and charted on the map, it was always someone else’s reality and I was a bystander seeing it unfold.
Until the president gave his address.
Suddenly the full weight of the situation came crashing down around me. Travel bans, visas revoked, public gatherings prohibited – even these seem far removed from me personally.
The president discussed the realities of an economic crisis that loomed ahead and would take years to work our way back out again. Then limiting the use of taxi’s, busses and trains, and schools remaining closed until after Easter. Well that was going to affect me personally. And not just me, but dear people close to me who rely on these services to get to and from work. Work that does not pay much, but barely enough to live.
Now what? If one cannot work, one cannot earn, and without earnings one cannot live. If we struggle with such social ills and poverty in our land now, then what would remain after this disaster had passed?
And then the early discussion of the physical effects of the virus, life and death came flooding back – no longer a commentary from the spectators, but a discussion from within the danger zone. If we do not come together, … I cannot describe the dooms-day images that come to mind.
With my heart broken, my fear increasing, my adrenaline rising and the effort to hold back tears and keep steady as I put my boys to bed, I managed to get myself to a place where I could just absorb the reality. The reality that all I had known and all that I had planned and dreamed 2020 would be was likely out of the window.
But there amongst the ashes was an ember of hope – “Thuma mina”. Of course I could not understand the significance of its meaning immediately, but it was clear that it was placed in the speech purposefully. So I searched.
“Send me”, a song by Hugh Masekela, a legendary musician in our country. This is not the first time our president has alluded to this song, and this idea – Send me!
Based on a scriptural reference:
‘And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”’ – Isaiah 6:8
The song expresses the idea of being a part of the solution to the ills of our country through a helping hand and prayer.
In this crisis, called COVID-19, we have the risk of utter chaos and collapse, but at the same time the opportunity for hope and restoration. We can abandon all reason and give into fear, or we can stand together in love, selflessness and graciously act in generosity and for the greater good. We can further separate ourselves or come together (not physically, of course) in solidarity.
Our perspective of a situation determines our approach to it.
When it comes to choosing the right school for your child, the process can be quite daunting and can leave a parent feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
School applications in the Western Cape open today, and the mad rush begins as parents scurry to secure a place for their child to have a successful future.
But what makes a child’s education and future successful? Does it all rest in the lucky draw of applications and getting into “the best school in the area”?
Choosing a good school is crucial, yes. Because it is in this place that your child will spend 5 out of 7 days per week with teachers, peers and an education curriculum that will mould their young experiences and direct their thinking patterns. But at the same time, as parents we hold just as much responsibility in creating experiences and influencing thinking patterns that will guide our children throughout their lives.
Perhaps you are sitting behind a stack of application forms, frantically completing the necessary questions, checking the fees structures and planning your route to and from school for 2021. Maybe take a moment – STOP – BREATHE – REFLECT!
What do you currently bring, and maybe need to consider bringing, to your child’s education and future? When your child is in your space, do you create opportunities for your child to learn, explore, question, reflect, critically reason, challenge, invent? Do you listen to your child’s words and see the world through their eyes, helping them to process, reflect, learn and grow from what has happened in and around them? Do you include your child in outside play, family sport tournaments, and rest and relaxation – help them face the disappointments of losing and the patience to wait their turn? Do you read to your child, ask them questions, hear their opinion, make up new endings?
Good schools offer children a place to learn reading, writing, history, science, etc. They offer support when a child struggles in their academics. They provide fellow peers where learners can engage with one another socially and learn the unspoken rules of life. They offer sport to challenge your child physically and socially. But learning is more than having opportunities presented to you. Learning is about taking those opportunities and sucking the marrow out of every bit. Learning is a life-long love for growth and development. It is not about making the 1st team, getting an A or being voted as “most popular”. It is about taking what is given to you, standing on it, and reaching for what is beyond you.
Many have gone to prestigious schools, have high paying jobs, travel the world, big homes, own the latest technology, but are falling apart personally and relationally. Others have been through the worst schools in the toughest neighbourhoods and have stable homes, committed friends and have steadily climbed the ladder towards leadership and influence, where they give back to their community and give others a firm foundation towards a better future. The solid foundations of learning and successful futures are birthed in the values that children – one day adults – carry internally. These values steer them through every experience and opportunity – exhilarating or challenging.
As you look back at your application forms, look beyond the academics and sport programmes, and listen to the heartbeat and values behind the school. Question your own values and the direction you want your child’s life to go? Are these two in alignment? Are there any changes that need to be made? Remember that together with a school, you are partnering towards setting up your child to draw out the best from life, to learn, to overcome, to grow and to succeed.
All the best for this month of application mayhem!
“I don’t want to go to school! I’m sick (fake cough). I just want to stay at home.”
Most mornings, at least one of my kids refuse to get out of bed. And with deep breathes, I aim to get through the morning routine without everything falling apart in and around me. Cooperation is the name of the game when you have 3 small boys (currently 5, 4 and 3) to get ready and out of the house before the peak traffic closes off all exits of your neighbourhood rendering you LATE, yet again. And thatphrase immediately tells me, cooperation is out of the window for today. It’s stressful! It’s stressful for me. It’s stressful for my husband. It’s stressful for my kids. And no one is happy by the time we leave the house. On these mornings, my response can be summed up as – this is life, suck it up, we have a job to do now, let’s get going. And when we finally get in the car, I realise how I gave into my base emotions, let absolute chaos reign and apologise for turning into the mom-monster yet again. (Is it just me?)
But every now and then, I can see that this “I don’t want to go to school” is a bit more serious, and a sign that things are just too much to handle right now. On these days, things run a little differently…
We all have stress – in today’s society, I think this is an understatement. We all have A TRUCK LOAD of stress! But at what point does it become a problem? And how do we know we’ve crossed that line? How do we know if our children have crossed that line, and how do we help them?
What is fear / anxiety / stress?
These three emotions are very closely linked, and can often feel like the same thing.
Fear is a reaction to a present threat, with negative emotions and motivation to escape or avoid danger or threat. (That ice cold, heart thumping feeling when an angry strong individual starts walking straight towards you at a pace.)
Anxiety is a reaction to a future threat, again with negative emotions. The future event can be perceived as something important or difficult. (That uneasy feeling and questioning, ‘will I pass the upcoming exams?’)
Stress is a reaction to a demand that one feels one cannot cope with, or threatens to disrupt one’s life in some way. (That panicky feeling when you have too much to do, in too little time – like loads of homework, along with all the extramural activities. Or getting 3 uncooperative little ones ready before being late.)
All three can be good and necessary for survival and moving forward through difficult circumstances. For example, avoiding confrontations with stronger people, can keep you from physical harm. A little nervousness about an exam or sport event, can encourage you to study or practice harder, and develop your skill. A challenging task can cause you to push yourself to new heights.
The problem is when they become overwhelming and lead to further disruption, or dysfunction (this is where we may to enter into psychological disorders). For example, avoiding all sports or parties or school events because I’m afraid of being attacked. Not being able to concentrate because you believe you will fail the exam no matter how hard you try, till eventually you don’t bother at all. Not being able to sleep because you have too much to do, and your adrenaline is pumping that you can’t shut off at night, and then can’t stay awake in class.
In short, there is definitely a problem when:
fear remains after threat has disappeared or fear is bigger than the situation warrants
when worrying about something so much that one can’t even face normal daily tasks
feeling one cannot cope with daily life and withdrawing from all activity
becoming physically ill because the body’s defences are depleted from continuous stress.
What are the clues that my child has a problem?
If some stress, fear or anxiety is good, then allowing children to experience it is necessary. We often want to protect our children from what is negative – but a healthy dose is necessary for learning, growth and future success. But, knowing when our children are heading towards something that is harmful, allows us to intervene before it becomes devastating. So how do you know when your child (or yourself) might be headed for the unhealthy version of stress, anxiety or fear? Children express themselves through behavior. If we spend time with our children, and know them well, we will be able to pick up on their behaviours which are out of the ordinary. When children don’t understand what is going on inside of themselves, or they know something is wrong but don’t have the words, they act out. Stress, anxiety and fear may show themselves in the following ways:
Changes in eating and sleeping habits (too much/too little, nightmares, fears about sleeping, waking odd hours, not falling asleep)
Change in mood and behavior (demotivated, restless, forgetful, irritable, fighting, bullying, avoiding places/people, clinginess, tantrums, disobedience, oppositional, self-injury, alcohol/drugs)
Change in school performance (drop in marks, disruptive, impulsive, inattentive, dependent on teacher, incomplete work)
When you notice a significant change in your child, over a period of time, start to ask questions.
What causes of stress/ fear/anxiety?
The causes of stress or fear or anxiety are numerous. In fact, anything can cause a negative emotion. A stressor can happen once, or it can happen over, and over. It can be big and it can be small. Some stressors include:
Universally threatening events – things generally considered dangerous – crime, bullying, including cyber-, natural disaster, gangsterism, violence in schools
Major life events – anything that causes disruption – divorce, moving house, changing school, friends leaving, choosing subjects, examinations, parent’s absence, displacement, change of caregivers
Daily hassles – the small everyday things, that can build up and become taxing – homework, sports, relationships, friendships, traffic, aftercare, change in routine, social media, technology, transport, rushing to get ready
Demands of life – high expectations to excel, to have certain possessions, popularity, expectations of customs and culture
Lack of resources – unemployment and poverty, large classes, lack of academic support, lack of parental involvement, personal disconnection due to technology and busyness
What can be done to help a stressed child?
In as much as an event can cause stress, stress is is also caused by the way we think about and interpret events, how we are able to handle our emotions, as well as our temperament and physical response to stress (hormones, brain structure, etc). If we think about children, the younger they are, the more at risk they are – immature brain structure, unable to understand or manage emotions yet, unable to cognitively process events. So as adults, our role is to bring external resources around our children, to reduce the stress they are exposed to, as well as to equip them with coping skills to be able to face stressors and manage them well. Some things we can do as parents, teachers, or whatever role you may have in a child’s life to help include:
In the moment – stop and breath (this helps the body calm down and process stress physically).
Talk through daily problems (what they are feeling, why, what can they do, what do they need help with) – find solutions together
Create time for fun, relaxation and gratitude – this allows the body to produce ‘happy hormones’ and redirect mental focus onto the good.
Parenting/teaching towards empowering children – develop their strengths and learn how to problem-solve.
Spend quality time with your child and create a structured and stable environment – children need a safe space, where they know what to expect and need to feel loved and accepted as they are.
Learn to manage your own stress well, and be an example of how to work through challenges and focus on what is good.
Make necessary changes – when you come to the place where you or your child are doing what you can to cope, you may need to consider getting away from the stressor.
When you notice stress/anxiety/fear is becoming overwhelming and interfering with everyday life, ask for help. Speak to someone who can assist you and your child in recongising the causes, understanding the feelings and developing coping skills.
So back to those mornings where not wanting to go to school is a clue that life is just too tough right now… in the midst of the chaos, we stop. We breathe deeper. We risk being late. We ask questions. We hear what the problem is, talk through solutions and end with connection and reassurance. For the most part, we’ve successfully managed to overcome these challenges then and there – other times, we’ve had to make some changes to our lifestyle or have had some tough conversations. Being aware of the clues means we can step in and assist our children before it becomes unmanageable. So be mindful, be present and be aware of what your children are communicating to you. And as you help them navigate the little stressors, you help them develop skills for the long term.