Our intern, Rutendo Mahowa, writes about the importance of creating safe spaces for children’s emotional development. This is even more important in the stressful times that we are facing now. She is a volunteer from the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP).
My name is Rutendo Mahowa. For the past year and a half I have had the privilege of volunteering at Lefika La Phodiso. Volunteering at Lefika has made me appreciate the value in safe spaces especially when children’s emotional development and growth is concerned. Growing up as a young woman in South Africa, I have encountered numerous counts of unsafe spaces; spaces that have opened my eyes to my vulnerability as a woman. This has made me realise the greater vulnerability that children may be exposed to and the responsibility that we, as adults living in these spaces, have in creating safer environments for our children to exist in. This only serves to grow them into prosocial adults of tomorrow.
Spaces where we can talk
Firstly, in this climate of fear and uncertainty caused by the worldwide outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, creating safe spaces for children’s emotional development in this climate starts with creating spaces where we can talk to children about the virus, how it is transmitted and what we have to do to protect ourselves from contracting it. Information about the virus, its transmission from person to person and how to keep safe can only serve to increase children’s safety when they are in spaces where we are not present to monitor them.
Secondly, it is important to make a habit of checking how children are coping with the lockdown regulations and restrictions upon certain freedoms. Similar to adults, the lockdown came like a shockwave disrupting our daily routine and how we engage with each other; this in itself caused feelings of anxiety, panic, anger and sometimes depression. Therefore, it is important that as families and communities we help each other navigate these changes and the emotions it evokes so that we can come out of this on the other side, safe and sound.
Thirdly it is important to create spaces in which the continual academic growth of your children is facilitated. Although this responsibility has largely been placed on schools, the closure of public schools and the reduction of the time spent in schools meant that some of this responsibility fell on parents, guardians or siblings. Therefore, a schedule or a convenient way of ensuring that children are guided in completing their school work is also an important consideration in these times. This is to ensure that the academic year is not lost in the chaos of everything going on around us.
Finding balance with play
Finally, it is important to balance academics with play. It is important to create spaces that enable children to play and laugh. Encouraging play will allow children to be children and for them to have fun whether by themselves or with you as a family. It is recommended to sometimes play with your children; this can help you learn about your child a little more, including their likes and dislikes. it can help you understand your child’s feelings in a less formal way while simultaneously creating stronger bonds in an environment whereby you as an adult learn to loosen up and have fun with your child.
The virus has threatened the safety of everyone worldwide and created so much chaos that has threatened our emotional and financial wellbeing. However, great effort is required from us to manage this change and foster resilience in our children so that they are well adapted to this new reality. This year has definitely not been an easy one but together we can make it through.
Read here what Community Art Counsellor and Occupational Therapist, Sarah Allen, says about children’s emotional development.