On 23 March, a national coronavirus lockdown was announced in South Africa, starting on 26 March 2020. This required us all to stay indoors, preventing children from going to school, parents/carers from going to work, and families/friends from socialising and visiting.
I write this blog on the 17th of September, marking 175 days of various levels of lockdown. By now, children have mostly returned to school, and as a Paediatric Occupational Therapist, I have gained many insights and heard various stories of what lockdown was like for the families I work with. Many of these may even resonate with you.
Living through a pandemic is not something one is typically prepared for, and therefore one cannot really judge a person’s choices as either right or wrong. I do feel, however, that with any experience, it is important to reflect and acknowledge the learnings that happened.
Upon reflection of the experiences of others, the following thoughts were highlighted for me:
Change in routine and ways of doing everyday tasks is challenging. It takes a while to adapt, but adaptation is possible.
“It was incredibly difficult having both my kids at home while trying to work.”
“My children were so busy and demanded so much of my energy. It is a relief to have our nanny back!”
“We were able to formulate some sort of routine during lockdown. I would do schoolwork, while my partner worked. We made a plan.”
“She loved being at home! Doing schoolwork was incredibly challenging at first but we adapted to online learning pretty quickly.”
- It is difficult to suddenly work remotely when your traditional way of working involved human interaction. This is the same for our children.
- It is challenging to adjust to your home and workplace being in the same area. This is my home, not my classroom. How do I turn-off from work when I never leave the ‘office’.
- Suddenly, we are taking on roles and responsibilities we didn’t have before. You’re a parent, teacher, cleaner, partner, etc. “But you’re not my teacher, you are my Mom. I haven’t got any time to play.”
- Not having external support is taxing and exhausting.
- Healthy use of technology can support learning and engage our techno-era children.
Nothing beats real-life experience to understand the points of others.
“Doing home-schooling….to be honest, I think I did more harm than any good. I felt like we fought all the time!”
“I can see now what his teacher was saying about his poor concentration – I couldn’t get him to sit for more than 10 minutes.”
“His behaviour and emotional outbursts are quite concerning, and I never noticed this before. I see how this will affect him socially with his friends and in the classroom.”
- Extended time with those close to us can give us insight into their experiences and open our eyes to parts of them we didn’t always see when life was ‘too busy’.
- It’s helpful to consider others’ points of view, even though our first response may be to defend or prove them wrong.
- Do you have new perspective on what it means to be a teacher, a stay-at-home parent, an aupair/nanny, a single parent? Perspective is good and enlightening.
What we do at home affects our child’s development.
“I can see how her posture and general muscle endurance have gotten weaker since lockdown.”
“Her teacher has seen a regression in her fine motor skills and handwriting.”
“I couldn’t get him to do any of the online school tasks…so he played on his I-pad most of the day.”
- Lockdown made physical activity difficult for some households, depending on what was available to you. We were limited to staying indoors, and no one was able to do extra-mural activities for several months.
- Many forms of technology were used over lockdown, some for learning and others because they just needed to be ‘kept occupied’. Of course, the result of excess screen time technology causes delays and regressions in development.
- What kind of play did your child engage in at home? Could they play on their own or did they need you with them all the time? Click here for ideas on how to expand your child’s play.
- For some families, this time gave you a chance to look at your household living habits (such as activity levels, home structure and routine, quality of social relationships, discipline, sleep), and evaluate which ones are healthy, which ones are destructive, and where you may need support.
Despite all the struggles, progress can be made!
“Out of his own choice, he started wearing underwear! He has always refused to wear them.”
“I have seen a marked improvement in his speech, willingness to learn and internal motivation.”
“Despite how terribly I thought home-schooling went, his teacher has noticed an improvement.”
- Time allows the nervous system to process information and make neurological connections.
- When our bodies are in a state of ‘stress’ (fight-flight-freeze response) it can make learning, problem-solving, decision-making, emotional regulation etc. really difficult. When stress subsides, we free up the brain to make progress in areas we weren’t able to before.
- Time spent in a healthy home environment can contribute positively to development and wellbeing.
Perhaps our lives are too busy… perhaps we don’t need to be doing so much… perhaps just being together is enough.
“We were able to spend time together as a family, which we haven’t been able to do in years!”
“He responded so well to the one-on-one time with me, even though we were doing schoolwork.”
“Not seeing his granny was particularly difficult, and contributed to more emotionality and high levels of anxiety.”
- Too often, our lives are filled with ‘things to do’… rushing off to the next appointment, play date or extra mural. As hard as lockdown was for many households, it forced us to stop and spend time together.
- Healthy emotional development involves interaction with others. This cannot happen if you or your child’s day is filled with too many activities.
- Never underestimate the importance of family and spending time with those we love. When that opportunity is taken away from you, it can be hard to cope with.
As we continue to live in our ‘new normal’, I encourage us all to congratulate ourselves for how far we have come, for the challenges we have faced, and for the changes we have made during a long, unprecedented time. Let us reflect on what worked, what was disastrous, and what we can continue to do in the future to support our development and growth, for both ourselves and our children.