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Parenting in times of coronavirus shutdown

Sunday March 22 2020

A woman takes her daughter through school word.

A woman takes her daughter through school word. PHOTO | FILE 

KAREN  MURIUKI
By KAREN MURIUKI
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Faith Waithera has three children, two of whom have had to come home from school in the last few days due to the coronavirus pandemic.

She’s a teacher, while her husband, who tends to travel for work a lot, works for the county government of Nairobi.
Working from home with their children around has been a bit crazy-making as can be expected.

But they are managing to lessen some of the attendant anxiety by spending more time together and doing activities as a family.

“Normally, everyone eats at their own convenience in this house. But we’ve made a point of having our meals all together, and without the distraction of any electronics. We feel a little calm this way,” she says.

THREE CASES

On March 15, following the confirmation of three cases of the deadly virus in Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta suspended learning in all institutions and asked government offices and businesses to allow employees to work from home.

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Four days earlier, the World Health Organization (WHO), had officially declared the coronavirus a pandemic.
Of course this left many Kenyans, and parents like Jane, in deep soliloquies.

Meghan Hawi plays with a tablet in their house
Meghan Hawi plays with a tablet in their house in Nairobi on March 19, 2020. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

How long will our children be out of school? How will we get our work done?

And this goes for parents with paid employment as well as those who stay home. Managing kids and a house is work.
Linda Ogango, 39, is a mother to 9-year-old Dennis and 2-year-old Hannah. The pandemic has been more of a learning experience for her, especially because her children are too inquisitive.

Laughing, she says, “I always have to be informed before answering any of their questions, which are A LOT. Trust me. My two-year-old already knows the pronunciation of the word sanitiser!”

But Linda has had to stick to a schedule and routine so as to keep her children safe, and educated at the same time.

CHORES

“It’s breakfast, chores and studying, which has majorly been the homework Dennis’ school was able to give in short notice. Next week, we will be studying through online portals. I allow him to play after his lunch break because it’s still a break,” she says.

The only difference is that all the children in the estate are playing within the confines of their homes, not together as they are used to. Dennis has had to adjust to that.

She adds, “Oh! I’m more keen on hygiene this time round. I insist on the importance of washing hands. Even the soap is always within my little Hannah’s reach.”

For Newton Wambugu, his two children made a very brief stopover at their home in Nyeri before they were sent to their grandmother’s place.

“Out there, they will be monitored easily and will play less since their friends are not there,” said Wambugu.

Children play at Dunga Beach in Kisumu County
Children play at Dunga Beach in Kisumu County after closing school for second term holiday on July 31, 2019. The government has advised parents to keep children in their homes until the crisis in the country is over. PHOTO | COURTESY

To ensure they are spending their time well, Wambugu said he has bought revision papers for them, which he intends to be checking after three days.

Like many, Jessica Muthoni, a mother of one, said she is putting God first, arguing that it is difficult to restrict children from interacting with their peers.

HIDE AND SEEK

“Trying to keep children in the house a whole day so they don’t interact with others will only start a hide and seek game, and children always win that. The best thing is to let them go out and play then sanitise them regularly,” she said.

Her friend Mary Maina, a mother of two, said she is spending extra money on sanitisers and food, adding that she had not planned for it.

She said she has sensitised her children about the virus and urged them to refrain from interacting with their friends for their safety.
For Mohamed Muturi, he has emphasised the importance of personal hygiene to his children and self-distancing from everyone.

“I figured that they cannot read by themselves at home and therefore I bought a lot of movies to keep them busy. I have also made their stay home enjoyable by buying them snacks to keep them indoors,” he said.

Clinical psychologist Florence Mueni shared tips on how parents can manage their feelings and anxieties as well as take care of their children during this pandemic.

“Diffuse the panic and try to normalise the situation.

ANXIETY

Children tend to pick up anxiety from their caregivers, so it’s important to remain calm, deal with the facts and limit the amount of time that the family spends on news, limit the amount of time that the children spend talking about it, and try to make the new abnormal as normal as possible.”

“Children need to be reassured that this is a precaution, that this illness doesn’t seem to be having a significant impact on their physical health and that it’s about protecting those people who are vulnerable in society.

“Create time to talk to the children about the virus, and the current happenings. There are a number of child-friendly versions online that you can choose from. By doing this, you can dispel any myths that they may be getting from their peers and social media platforms. Break down any updates in a way that they can understand.

Children enjoying time together in the estate
Children enjoying time together in the estate after the government suspended learning in all institutions because of the COVID-19 pandemic. PHOTO | COURTESY

“It’s also important to validate their worries and anxiety, and to let them know that it’s okay and normal to experience it.”

Give them an outlet to discuss emotions. Journaling is a good way for adolescents to process their feelings in this uncertain time. You can also set aside time to talk as a family about how everyone is feeling and coping with the outbreak.

MENTAL HEALTH

“Limit the time spent in front of screens.

Parents should try keep the time spent in front of screens to normal levels or reach an agreement with their children.

Several one-hour blocks a day is better than binge-watching.

“Limit the news for your own mental health, and that of your children. Constantly following the latest coronavirus news will only increase the entire family’s anxiety.

“Seek support from other parents and look after yourselves.

Adults should deploy strategies to manage their own anxiety levels and look after their own well-being. Exchange tips and offer support on social media platforms. Parents who don’t look after themselves are not going to be in a position to look after their children.
“Maintain a structure to the day.

Self-isolating or quarantined families should try to maintain a school-like structure to the day and plan ahead several activities to try out when needed.

RELAXATION
“A typical routine could involve getting dressed, having an activity in the morning, then may be having some relaxation time.

“Stick to a sleep schedule. While it might be tempting for the older children to stay up late every night and sleep late every morning, that’s not going to be beneficial to their physical and mental health. Remember to enforce ‘no screen time’ an hour before bed.

“Encourage free play. Spending time outside in fresh air has huge physical and mental health benefits. While children might complain about not knowing what to do, they will quickly find something to explore or create while outside.”

Wondering what to do with your children during the extended break?

‘Lifestyle’ has a few ideas:

For those with children who in are primary and secondary schools, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development will be airing lessons on radio. The time table explains in detail what time your child should be in ‘class’.

Red Letter Resources — an online platform that shares resources developed to assist parents and caregivers create opportunities for children to thrive through fun activities — develops curriculums for ages two to four. They are based locally and deliver the packages right to your door. Contact: +254 729 847 334.

LEARNING SHAPES
Akili & Me is an app for five-year-olds and under, and is free on iOS and Android app stores. Their shows are also on Showmax and are great for learning shapes, colours, letters, numbers, among others.

Khan Academy offers free online courses for children from kindergarten to high School.

YouTube has a wide variety of shows, videos and classes that range with your child’s age as well as the subject needed.

Scratch is a free programming, language and online community where your child can programme their own interactive stories, games, and animations — and share their creations with others in the online community.

Superbook is a free app that brings the Bible to life for children. It is equipped with a full Bible, videos, images and engaging interactive games. Additionally, there are dozens of dynamic video clips from the Superbook animation series and images of Bible characters, places and artefacts enhanced with detailed biographies.

YouTube also offers a variety of Do It Yourself projects that not only educate your child, but also help in bonding when done together.

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