Advice Column, Experts, OT Keys to the Universe, Parenting

How to teach children to perform optimally during crisis

  • Nasreen Cariem
  • Category Advice Column, Experts, OT Keys to the Universe, Parenting

People all over the world are going through a time of reflection. This may be in silence behind closed doors or publicly in front of an audience or with a group of relatives and friends. It may even be expressed through laughter and joy or tears and sadness. 

What a year 2020 is proving to be as we’ve just passed the halfway mark of what is definitely fast becoming a turning point in everyone’s lives globally. We are certainly experiencing time as being the only consistency in the form of how quickly it passes us by regardless of circumstance. We are left with merely five more months of this life changing year which has quite forcibly placed our lives as we know it to be, on mute. Five months into lockdown and so much has altered dramatically. We somehow find ourselves adjusting to what seems to have slowly but surely become ‘the norm’ these days, not so much ‘the new norm’ any longer. What really stands out though is the ability of us as humans to adapt and adjust to any occurrence which we allow ourselves to, even despite the extreme odds of our circumstances, being as significant as a global pandemic such as Covid 19. 

According to the Five Stages of Grief Model as developed in the 1960’s by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, which has become a valuable tool to help educate people about the impact of how loss or significant change in life circumstances can create feelings of grief that need to be processed. She specifies stages of the encounter of an individual undergoing grief as being, “…denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance”. I feel that this is quite apt in describing the natural human reaction which most of us have experienced as we have tried to and continue to process the unexpected and shocking arrival and status of the global pandemic within our lives.  At first we all would have gone through a state of denial along with its sense of shock, anger and bargaining as we have tried our utmost to adapt to the traumatic change. Many of us are currently transitioning between depression and acceptance which is evident as in accordance with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) which has reported a significant rise in anxiety and depression since the onset of Covid 19. Many have simultaneously suffered loss of loved ones, relatives and friends during this pandemic leading to feelings of heartbreak, loss and low mood. Some have experienced depression due to loss of relationships, vocation and are therefore experiencing loss of roles and purpose, role performance as well as inner drive. Therefore, are ultimately moving towards acceptance as we all learn to live with a newly adapted way of life practiced with caution and distance.

This may differ in children though bearing in mind that every child processes trauma differently and may spend their own unique periods of time in the stages of grief.  Children have a tendency to illicit intense feelings of overwhelming shock, confusion and emotional outbursts when in the denial phase. Once it wears off they have a tendency to transition straight away to bargaining in the hope for the traumatic situation to disappear. This eventually may lead to a state of depression whereby they realise and mourn their newly found state of loss and ultimately reaching acceptance whereby their real adjustment to their new norm begins to occur. This brings us to our present day where children have just recently grown accustomed to their brief period of school reintegration since the onset of Covid 19 before experiencing the current phase of school closure once again. 

This acts a reminder of the fact that we will never truly know, nor do we have control of what our future holds. We do however have control of our reactions and the best that we can do is to also impart that knowledge onto our children so that they may learn to self-regulate during times of crises and adversity during this global pandemic and beyond. So how do we teach children to deal and cope with crises? 

Here are a few important tips which I have written for parents, caregivers and even teachers to use whilst managing children not only through this pandemic, but through any crisis that they may experience throughout their lifetime:

  1. Firstly it is vital to monitor every child’s unique reaction to the crisis at hand. This would apply to any crises whether it is Covid 19 as well as any other, such as losing a loved one, dealing with a life changing illness or their parents getting a divorce. Every child is unique and will present differently in their reactions be it in the form of emotional outbursts, emotional tantrums and also extreme passivity and withdrawal.
  2. Parents and/or caregivers should try their best to create an approachable and safe haven within themselves, which would allow their children to feel comfortable enough to open up about their emotions and fears.
  3. It is important to practice immense patience and empathy as one acknowledges their fears and their feelings as being validated as this allows them to feel understood, before providing them with gentle guidance.
  4. Encourage them to come up with their own ideas of solutions to their fears as this will train them to problem solve from an early age.
  5. Teach them to get to know themselves and their regular behavioural patterns and how to recognise abnormal behavioural patterns within themselves. This will result in them being able to recognise when they are feeling anxious and/or traumatised.
  6. Teach them emotional self-regulation techniques such as mindfulness, short and long term positive goal setting, adaptableness and self-awareness so that they are able to independently bring themselves from a state of anger and/or heightened emotion to a state of calm and ease. This can also be attained through seeing a therapist. 
  7. It is also important to educate them on what to do should they experience a panic attack in the case of suffering from anxiety disorder as this can be extremely overwhelming for children. 
  8. Encourage them to ask as many questions as they require in order to empower themselves whilst simultaneously limiting excess exposure to media sources in order to prevent undue stress within their little minds.
  9. Encourage the use of expression for your children through activities which are uniquely meaningful to them be it in the form of art activities, roleplaying with toys and sporting activities which acts as an amazing outlet not only for self-expression but also stress relief.
  10. Lastly to ensure sustainability in teaching one’s children how to cope with crises, it is of paramount importance to model these healthy coping skills so that they are able to recognise and integrate it within their everyday lives.

If only we could be able to ideally safeguard and protect our children from every kind of hardship and disaster, if only! Even though this is not humanly possible and despite experiencing a time of great uncertainty, as the saying goes, ‘Chance favours the prepared mind.’ If we ensure that we are mentally, physically and emotionally prepared for the worst whilst always hoping for the best, this would enable us to act as our very own shock absorbers through this traumatic time. 

By teaching our children how to cope in times of crises, not only are we gifting them with emotional resilience and flexibility, but also emotional maturity, emotional intelligence and emotional independence. These are valuable concepts which will benefit them for the rest of their lives, not only in times of crises and adversity, but also in their future careers, decision making skills and relationships. 

This will aid them with the tools that they require in becoming their very own shield and armour as they become our leaders and teachers of tomorrow, who will shape and transform this beautiful world into being the greatest place it can possibly be for them and in turn, perhaps their very own children too 

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