Will our toddlers be OK when lockdown ends?

Educational psychologist Zaakirah Mohamed says parents need to lower their expectations and stop being so hard on themselves.

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Whether you’ve sent your kids back to day care or are still homeschooling, chances are you’re feeling anxious.

On the one hand you’re worried if they’ll be sufficiently protected from getting infected with the coronavirus. But on the other hand, you’re worried that if you don’t send your child back to day care, it will impact her development.

ALSO SEE: Is your 3-year-old reaching her developmental milestones during lockdown?

These are just some of the anxieties moms are grappling with right now – and that’s not to mention all the other responsibilities resting on our shoulders like running the household, homeschooling our kids, getting our work done and still looking after our partner.

But the ultimate question is: will your toddler still be ok once life returns to normal?

Educational psychologist, mom and qualified foundation phase teacher Zaakirah Mohamed chatted to Sam Herbst and Charlene Armstrong from The Great Equalizer podcast about navigating our anxieties as parents during COVID-19.

Lead by example

Zaakirah says your child’s social and emotional well-being will depend on the example you set. “If you are anxious and only focussing on the negativity of the situation, she will pick it up.”

Rephrase the way you talk, she advises. “I’ve heard a couple of parents say, ‘My kids and I are stuck at home’ ­- you’re not stuck at home, you’re safe at home. Just by changing your vocabulary you’ll already make your child feel more at ease.”

She says our children are relying on our cues and examples to handle and navigate these uncertain times. “If you deal with your anxieties in a healthy way, your child will be able to cope with the situation much better as well.”

ALSO SEE: How to stop your lockdown frustration from affecting your kids

If you’re feeling anxious about sending your little one back to creche, that’s perfectly ok, Zaakirah adds. The important thing is to keep yourself informed. “The more you equip yourself with knowledge about COVID-19 and how it can affect your child, the less anxious you will be when your kids are back at school. Use reliable sources for your research, but also don’t read every single news report about COVID-19 otherwise you’ll become even more anxious,” she says.

Tips to socially and emotionally prepare your child to go back to day care:

  • Explain to your child how school is going to be different. Let them know they won’t be able to hug their friends anymore and that they’ll need to wear a mask and wash their hands very often. There are so many online resources you can use to explain social distancing to your child. Click here for a list.
  • Let your child practise these new ‘rules’ at home so it becomes familiar to them. Let her wear her mask while she’s doing her online schooling or colouring in so she can get used to wearing it. Let her practise washing her hands the right way – even if she’s just at home. This will all help to prepare her for the new normal when you’re ready to let her go back to school.
  • Explain to your child that by wearing her mask she’s keeping herself and everyone else around her safe and healthy.

Am I putting my child at a disadvantage if I keep her home for the rest of the year?

Zaakirah says children are social beings who need social interaction. “The main reason we send our kids to early childhood development centres or day care centres is for them to socialise with other kids – not for the academics. School only really becomes academically focused when they go to Gr R.”

That said, if you have decided not to send your child back to school, it’s important to find ways for them to connect with other children. This could be via video calling or signing them up for some sort of online group (non-academic) where they can interact with other children. “It’s important that you let your child maintain some form of social interaction even though it’s not face-to-face,” she notes.

Juggling work and running a household – how do you keep the kids busy?

It’s been three months since the start of lockdown. In the beginning we all hit the ground running, making play dough and edible paint, baking with the kids to keep them busy, and so on. But you’re not alone if you’re feeling exhausted now. So, what other sustainable ideas are there to keep kids entertained at home?

Again, Zaakirah says we need to lower our expectations and not be so hard on ourselves. “Don’t put an unrealistic number of activities on your list. If you say to yourself, ‘I’m going to do five things with my child today,” but only end up doing one – that’s completely fine.”

In the ECD phase, it’s emotional and social development that’s important – in other words, the ability to share, to take turns, and develop language and fine and gross-motor skills. “The worst thing you can do is just let your child sit in front of the TV all day – you do need to do at least one thing with your child each day to help develop these skills.”

She reminds us that things won’t always go according to plan and that’s ok – we’re human. “If your kids spend a little more time watching TV today than they should have, you can try do more activities with them tomorrow.”

Zaakirah says you don’t need elaborate activities to keep your child stimulated – as long as she is running, jumping and moving around she’ll be fine. “Let her help you when you’re cooking. Give her a plastic knife to cut a banana for you or give her a bag of flour to play with while you get dinner ready. as long as she’s doing some form of activity that stimulates her fine or gross motor skills, she’ll be fine.”

ALSO SEE: 5 everyday activities to stimulate your toddler during lockdown

Quality time doesn’t mean hours with your kid

According to Zaakirah, you don’t need to spend hours with your child for it to be considered quality time. “It can be as simple as letting them sit with you while you’re cooking dinner and chatting to you or, asking them to bring you the pillows when you make the bed. Just interacting with your child for a couple of minutes every day is enough,” she says. “I think this is why moms get panicky – they try and do too much. They see all these beautiful activities on Facebook and Instagram and think they need to do it all to help their children develop, but they don’t have to.

“Simple everyday activities are enough,” concludes Zaakirah.

More about the expert:

Zaakirah Mohamed is a registered educational psychologist working in private practice. She also works part-time at Harambee Youth Employment Accelarator. Her fields of interest include learning disabilities and school readiness. Learn more about Zaakirah Mohamed here

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