During lockdown, we went from sending our children to school, to becoming their teacher’s overnight. As we continue to navigate this challenging and ever-changing time, here are some insights to help you navigate how you work with your children at home.
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.
What will yours be today?
What does that mean for you practically?
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!
Wishing all learners returning to school for the 2020 school year the very best ahead!
May this year prove to be one that is full of new opportunities for growth and development, and bringing out the unique beauty and strength that lies within your child.
When life gets tough, we want our children to know that they can come to us with anything. But an open and trusting parent-child relationship isn’t something that happens by accident. It takes a few intentional choices. Here are 5 things that can add to a healthy, trusting and positive environment that invites openness.
1. Be consistent
Consider an anchor on a ship. It’s role is to hold fast below the surface, when nothing is steady above. It is dependable and will keep a ship from drifting. Consistency in parenting creates a space where children know that what they see is what they get, no matter what. Values are consistent. Rules are consistent. Consequences are consistent. Mom and dad’s response is consistent. It doesn’t matter what might be going on – good or bad – your child can be confident that when they engage you, they know what they are going to get. This creates security. There isn’t an insecurity about the kind of mood you’re in, or if they’re catching you at a good time, or if it might be better to just leave it and not engage, just in case it’s one of ‘those days’. The security of consistency allows children to know that you are you, and they are welcome to approach you with anything and they know your immediate response will not be a guessing game.
2. Discipline firmly and fairly
Discipline is about guidance – not punishment, as many assume. As parents our role is to guide our children through the many opportunities, decisions and circumstances which they encounter and equip them to manage them well. Linked with consistency, if children know that each decision carries consequences, they will in time learn that their choices have power and determine outcomes in their life. This again builds confidence and security. When we discipline fairly and firmly, as opposed to inconsequently and emotionally, our children learn that they have power to be themselves and determine their outcomes instead of being controlled by a powerful ‘other’. Being free to be oneself is part of a healthy relationship.
3. Be honest, genuine, transparent
Nothing ruins a relationship more than dishonesty. For any relationship to thrive, both parties need to have a certain level of trust of one another. Trust is built on honesty, genuineness and transparency. What you see, is who I truly am. This is probably one of the hardest things to do – be the real you. The truth is that we are flawed individuals on our own journey’s towards our full potential. When we put up a front we break trust, we become judgemental and have double standards. Children are very perceptive and quickly realise when adults don’t ‘practice what they preach’. As far as possible, live up to the standards you set for your child – be a good example. But when you fall short, apologise, explain why you did what you did, and what you will change for the better. Use your weaknesses as opportunities to grow, and let your children get a glimpse (age appropriate) of what that growth journey looks like. When children know that you are human, they will feel comfortable sharing their weaknesses and shortcomings, fears and concerns, questions and opinions with you as well.
4. Practice empathy
Empathy is more than feeling for a person – that is sympathy. Empathy is being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspective. In fact, it actually goes further than that. Empathy is communicating this understanding to the other person in such a way that they are able to understand what is going on inside of themselves, and empowers them to act on that understanding. Empathy is like being a mirror and providing a reflection of the truth. When we look at ourselves in the mirror we gain understanding as to our present condition and we can choose to do something about it – make-up, hair gel, or nothing. Using every opportunity to understand and reflect what is happening within our children helps us know them for who they are, but allows them to develop a healthy sense of self, and then empowers them to make the necessary changes for positive growth. Empathy might take the form of giving words to emotions when a child is having a tantrum – “I can see that you are angry. Not getting what you want doesn’t feel very nice. But sweets before supper is not allowed. You can be angry, but screaming at me will not change the rule”. It might take place during or after a play date, “It seems that you were disappointed when your friend didn’t want to play the game you wanted. You didn’t say anything and just went along with them anyway. Why was that?” These moments can lead to teaching moments for better choices of behaviour or conversations about deeper issues.
5. Respond to their needs
All people have basic needs. Our behaviour is driven by our needs. If we are observant, our children’s behaviours and responses can tell us what it is that they need. Needs can be anything from basic survival (highly emotional outbursts could be because your child is hungry – a term we at home refer to as HANGRY), safety (your child may need to feel a sense of security by hovering, reach out and hug them, hold them close, rather than sending them away because they’re irritating), belonging (children may need to know you love them no matter what, trying behaviour may be testing whether or not you will truly love them as they say or trying to fit in with the crowd at school), esteem (the move for independence is frustrating when they want to do it their way, but without that space they will never achieve, and we all need to feel a sense of achievement), and self-actualisation (ultimately we all want to be all we can be, meeting the other needs helps a child towards this). Children also have love needs such as quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service and physical touch. Sometimes their behaviour is communicating that one of these areas are lacking. By responding to our children’s needs we fill up their love tanks and ensure that they are emotionally satisfied. This brings two people in a relationship closer. In healthy adult relationships both parties should seek to fill one another’s tanks. In the parent-child relationship, this responsibility lies solely with the parent. Children may respond to your love with love, but if they don’t remember parents unconditionally love their children but seek personal fulfillment from other adult relationships. Be careful not make your child your emotional crutch by relying on them for love.
As you engage with your child, creating a space where you child knows who you are, and where they can be who they are, where they are loved and their needs are met, and where they are able to understand themselves better and are equipped and encouraged to make choices and move towards better outcomes, you are creating a place of openness and trust and a place where they can feel safe no matter what is going on in their lives.
Take a moment to recall some of your childhood memories. I’m sure that many of them contain at least one other person – a friend, an enemy, a family member, a stranger. Life is made up of moments where we engage with others.
From birth, children are in need of human relationship. At first, there is a complete dependency on our parents and caregivers. As we age we become more independent, but our need for relationship continues. A key aspect is developing a healthy balance of interdependence. Our experiences (good or bad) in childhood lay a foundation for our adult choices, including relationships. So learning how to form healthy relationships early on will guide children towards forming healthy relationships later in life.
Social skills, as with any skill, need to be learnt. For some it may seem to come naturally, while others need to diligently practice. Social skills also change as societal norms change. As parents we need to help our children understand and manage the social rules that guide interactions.
Social skills cannot be developed in a vacuum, and therefore interactions with others are necessary. These interactions take place in any social setting, at home, with extended family or friends, in shopping centers, parks, walking down the street, driving in the car, etc. Anywhere where a child might come into contact with another person, social skills can be developed. Children learn from watching our interactions with others, and they learn from their own experience, with ongoing adaptions.
Peer relationships play different roles at different stages of childhood. This is because of children’s emotional, cognitive and behavioural development and how they are able to understand their own and other’s feelings,
- In early years, friends are momentary – you’re a friend as long as we are together having fun.
- In early primary school, friends are those people who do nice things for you.
- Later in primary school, friends are based on social rules such as mutual benefit, but are often termed “fair-weather friends”. Falling out is common, and emotions are high, in-crowd vs out-crowd thinking comes to the fore.
- Through primary school and into early high school, children can develop friendships with genuine care for the other person. More often it is in high school that children can develop friendships that last through thick and thin and that encourage character development.
So as a parent, reflect on how you interact with others. Are you portraying the social skills and values you would like your children to learn? Commit to making some changes if you need to.
Observe your children as they interact with others. Engage with them and help them to see what they are doing that is helpful or harmful in building healthy relationships. Let them practice by engaging with others and trying new things – greeting other adults (respect), saying “no” when they feel uncomfortable (boundaries), explaining their position on something when they disagree with a friend or sibling (assertiveness), having to share or take turns when others are playing with them (cooperation), etc.
Help your child understand what kind of friendship they are involved in – this also helps them manage expectations. Is it momentary? Is it one-way? How do they feel? How do others feel? What consequences can they expect from their behaviour? How can they respond to other’s behaviour? How do they feel being on the outside? How can they help others feel like they belong? How do their friends help them grow in character? How can they help their friends grow?
As we help our children navigate friendships when they are young, we help them develop the tools they need for healthy interactions for life.
I am a Psychologist practicing in the Northern Suburbs of Cape Town, in South Africa. I am passionate about family, relationships, education, community engagement, and children. My purpose, through the work I do, this blog and in my every day as an individual is to journey with others and motivate them to towards their full potential. I want to encourage parents, teachers and others who carry the mandate of raising and equipping the next generation, assisting them through practical ideas, managing self-care and understanding their own path and how they intersect the lives of others. I believe that together we can journey beyond the challenges of now, toward the possibilities of tomorrow.
For the most part I will address issues based on research and scientific findings. However, I will also share some personal beliefs, opinions and experiences that have shaped how I see mental health and wellbeing, relationships, family, parenting, teaching and childhood development. My hope is that you will find this website helpful and informative. While these posts may be helpful, they cannot substitute the value and need for professional consultation. Please contact me should you require a therapeutic intervention.