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Urgent need to create community during this COVID-19 pandemic

The Catholic News continues to examine parenting areas during the pandemic. 

In this piece, psychologist Anna Maria Mora offers a perspective for parents and their children.

  1. How should parents deal with young children/teens-especially if parents are working and not physically present to supervise attendance by their children?

This is the most important question in the scheme of things as they are now.  Families today exist in isolation. We say that this type of family is the best family structure. We might try to build ‘communities’ but walls and fences still go up, with everyone isolated from each other, not knowing the names of neighbours and many times preventing the children from playing with each other.  We call these families ‘nuclear families’. In my opinion, the disadvantages of the ‘nuclear family’ far outweigh its advantages.

Disadvantages: Members of the nuclear family are separated from their extended family, and bonding with aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins is non-existent. Children also have difficulty socialising and because they tend to be caught up in ‘me’ and ‘I’ because of the demand to be independent, practising empathy is difficult. Seeing the other, feeling the pain of the other and commiserating with the other is difficult.

In times of crisis, such as this pandemic, we need a sense of community. One of the opportunities which this pandemic has presented to us is the urgency of creating true community.  Parents have to go out to work and there is the complaint that there is no one to supervise the children.  Having a sense of community will find us approaching those retired persons, housewives, university or CAPE (Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination) students who live on our street or in the community and communicating with them our needs.  Of course, there are the health regulations which need adherence. The persons who are available to work with the children in the community can take five children each, practise social distancing and sanitising and ensure that the children practise their social skills, and pay attention to the education which is being offered to them virtually.  There is so much of this available.

I go into my fantasy world and imagine our Church leaders, (just as they invite parishioners to donate to the hampers for those who need) invite those members of the communities who are at home and would like to offer their services to families whose parents have to go to work and have no help to supervise the children.  These members can receive training and provide the service that is so needed. Wi-Fi services can be donated to those children who are victims of the digital gap. Churches will definitely help with building community.  Some of these helping homes can be responsible for only the toddlers and preschoolers, others for the 7-10 age groups, 11-13 age groups, then the14-17+ age groups.

There is a plethora of helpful online guidance for those facilitators who are chosen to take charge of these classes. These facilitators can get a stipend for working with these five children and ensuring that all health regulations are followed.  Do not forget that social skills are at the foundation of any learning programmes.

Our Social Workers can also do home visits to ensure that all is in place for the children to be safe and receive the education in a stimulating and progressive environment.

Make home a home

This pandemic and all its regulations need a very high sense of discipline if citizens are to come through this successfully. The lockdown, whether full or partial is not something that our families or individuals can smoothly move into without some sense of distress. Many citizens just go home to sleep. Children are at lessons, or some extra-curricular activities after school. They go home to eat, do homework and then go to sleep. On weekends, it is more lessons, more extra curricula activities, no time to bond with family outings.  Home is not a place in which they truly live.

As children we were not consciously taught coping skills.  Our inner drive taught us to creep and then hold on and stand up, and begin with baby steps and a few falls and when adults smile and laugh with us, we learn what we need to do to please them. Then we grow up and striving for independence does not please them anymore.  We learn to cope with this through having fun at our ‘lessons’ classes, or our extra-curricular activities and our social media relationships.

Now in this crisis, this pandemic, we are stuck inside with our parents who we really do not know and who do not know us.  We are flooded with feelings that interfere with the coping skills we developed to protect us. Feeling  sad, afraid (hearing about all the havoc that this virus is bringing upon us), agitated, lost, angry, lonely, bored, caged, confused, controlled, discouraged, to name a few.

These feelings invade us and interfere with our normal day-to-day activities.  We now have no control. We struggle with ourselves and begin to think that we are losing control.  Meeting our friends to go to the mall or cinema on weekends is out, birthday parties, field trips and all the things that make us happy are not possible and we cannot understand what is happening.  Any one or several of the feelings noted above can overcome us and we have trouble focusing on the online classes, lack motivation, and we lose interest in socialising.

Coping Skills:

  1. We must begin to communicate with our children. We should have done this since whole situation began in March 2020.  Those children who can listen to the news, read all the information sent on social media, must be engaged in conversation so that you can get a sense of what they understand about these messages. Then we become oversaturated with the messages and as adults we turn off and do not know what to believe. The fake news takes over.  Again we must have conversations with our children and help them to discern or sift out the confusion. We turn off and we take control of the messages we receive.
  2. We can help our children to take control of their confusion. Taking control of the confusion means that your child can turn off the cell phone and get in with paint brushes, music or whatever your child likes to do. They must also see you taking control of all these confusing messages, instead of quarelling, becoming critical, and losing control.
  3. Teach them to take deep breaths when they feel anxious, sad or any of the feelings mentioned above. Teach them to breath properly. Deep breaths go down into the belly. The belly expands like a balloon.  If you breathe and your chest and shoulders go up, it means that you are not deep breathing, the oxygen will not go into your brain, to make you feel better. Go in front of the mirror, put your hand on your belly and breathe, if your belly does not fill up like a balloon, you will see your chest and shoulders go up, then you are not breathing properly. You have to practise. When we are anxious and those heavy feelings overtake us, we breathe short and quickly and feel dizzy and do not feel well. We have to take our time and work at calming down which proper breathing does.
  4. Teach your child to use the feeling words mentioned above. We do not actively teach children to use the words, so that they shut down and become aggressive or alienate themselves, when we really want, is that they communicate with us. You as parent must know the words too. You must be able to use the words.
  5. Be calm and express how you feel. Learn the words that are associated with the feeling and teach your children. There will be a calmer environment for a conversation on how we are feeling, what is causing it and we can work out a solution together.
  6. If all of the above is difficult, seek help. You can find help on the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists’ website or the Ministry of Social Development has its National Family Services.

You can check out our other articles:

Parenting during the pandemic

Teens talk about COVID-19 and online schooling

What example are you setting in faith, hope and trust?

Divine parenting support – the best gift to a child