MOST children have been at home since March when schools were ordered closed, with some not getting a chance to get any time for social interaction outside their homes for that entire period. From all indications this situation will continue until September for many, as even if summer activities are approved, many parents will be hesitant to send their children out amid COVID-19 fears.
What that means is that if a child doesn't have siblings, friends or relatives close by, they may be lacking social interaction with their peers, which is key to their development.
Last month UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged governments, civil society and health authorities to urgently address mental health needs arising from the coronavirus pandemic, warning that psychological suffering is increasing, even among the youngest cohort of the world's population.
“Emotional difficulties among children and adolescents are exacerbated by family stress, social isolation, with some facing increased abuse, disrupted education and uncertainty about their futures,” he said.
The school space has been shown in decades of research as having a unique role in the peer relationships, that are important to children's development, and from their first years of life, children are interested in socialising with their peers. In preschool, for example, children's social, cognitive, language, and emotional capacities are developed in conjunction with coordinated peer interaction.
So with schools out and activities on pause, how do you see to this critical social interaction need from home? Here are some tips provided by UNICEF, formulated specifically for COVID-19:
Have one-on-one time
Set aside time to spend with each child — it can be for just 20 minutes, or longer. It can be at the same time each day so your children can look forward to it. Ask your child what they would like to do. Choosing builds their self-confidence. If they want to do something that doesn't allow for physical distancing, then this is a chance to talk with them about it.
Be the entertainment
For your baby/toddler, you can copy their facial expression and sounds; sing songs; make music with pots and spoons; stack cups or blocks; tell a story; read a book or share pictures.
It's hard to feel positive when our kids are driving us crazy, and we often end up saying “Stop doing that!” But children are much more likely to do what we ask if we give them positive instructions and lots of praise for what they do right. Use positive words when telling your child what to do, like, “Please put your clothes away” (instead of “Don't make a mess”).
Help your child stay connected
Older children especially need to be able to communicate with their friends. Help them connect through social media and other safe distancing ways. This is something you can do together, too!
Have a routine
Create a flexible but consistent daily routine. Make a schedule for you and your children that has time for structured activities as well as free time. This can help children feel more secure and better behaved. Include exercise in each day — this helps with stress and that increased energy.
Learn through play
Around the world, millions of children face school closure and isolation in their own home. This tip is about learning through play — something that can be fun for all ages. There are so many different types of play that can be both fun and educational. Language, numbers, objects, drama and music games give children opportunities to explore and express themselves in a safe and fun way.
Here are some ideas:
1. Create a dance choreography to your children's favourite songs. One person does a dance move and everyone else copies. Everyone takes turns being the leader.
2. “Challenge” who can do the most jumping jacks or toe touches in a minute.
3. “Mirror” each other — facial expressions, movements, sounds. One person can start as the leader and then switch. Try it with no leaders!
4. Freeze dance: Play music or someone sings a song, and everyone dances. When the music stops, everyone must freeze. Last person still dancing becomes the judge for the next round.
5. Animal dance: Same as above, but when the music stops, call out a name of an animal, and everyone has to become that animal.
6. Tell your children a story from your own childhood. Ask your children to tell you a story. Make up a new story together starting with “Once upon a time…” Each person adds a new sentence to the story. Or act out a favourite story or movie. Older children can even direct younger ones while learning responsibility.
7. Everyday household items like brooms, mops or scarves can become fun props for games. Place an object in the centre of the room and whenever someone has an idea, they jump in and show the rest what the object can be. For example, a broom might become a horse or a microphone or even a guitar.
8. Singing songs to your baby helps to develop language. Play or sing a song, and the first one to guess it right becomes the next leader. Make up a song about hand washing or physical distancing.