Stimulating Children's Minds in a COVID-19 Lockdown
Markus Streit, Coordinator of NPHI Family Services, looks at the important role of caregivers to help calm nerves and stimulate our children's minds during the isolation of the pandemic.
April 27, 2020 - NPH International
In these times of coronavirus restrictions, providing healthy, adequate childcare is a challenge that many families are experiencing around the globe. Our caregivers in the nine homes of the NPH family face the same challenges of keeping the children busy and happy with restricted options. Continuing with normal habits provides security, but it is important to create a difference between weekday and weekend schedules and routines.
Besides dedicating time daily for reading and intellectual stimulation, our caregivers are spending more quality time and leisure time together with the children and youth. Under clear limitations, we make sure that the children and youth can go out into the sunshine to play, to fortify their immune systems and natural defenses, and to have fun, but not in several groups together or at the same time. Each casita within an NPH home has its own games and toys to avoid any unnecessary, indirect contact between people.
Nevertheless, it is still a daily challenge as governmental travel restrictions and protection measures have limited the ability of staff to travel to and from work. And the few caregivers who do not have their own families to take care of and manage to arrive on-site are asked to stay within the home and work for longer periods than usual, sometimes up to two weeks without any guarantee of a shift change. Besides the mental health of our children and youth, our directors and professional teams monitor the mental health of our childcare teams to provide encouragement and advice to them on how to manage the stress of the situation. All coworkers, volunteers and older pequeños cooperate to make daily life as smooth as possible.
A frequent question we receive is: how do we explain the coronavirus to children? The most important thing is to stay calm and know how to manage one’s own stress. We must be honest about the fact that this is a dangerous virus because it is easily spread; therefore, we must protect ourselves from it. At the same time, we provide reassurance by informing the children and youth that there are many medical professionals to monitor our health, understand the virus, and reduce the risk of contagion. The best role models for this reassurance are the doctors and nurses who work tirelessly in our NPH homes and clinics.
As adults, we must monitor our own conversations with other adults about the pandemic. Children listen and sense our fear. There is no need to be alarmed or to arouse fear. In fact, the vast majority of people are recovering and being cured. We communicate honestly and avoid long explanations, responding to the fears children may have. Children have a right to know what is going on around the world. While adults have the responsibility to not only protect them from danger, but also tell them about it honestly.
To ensure that the children speak openly and honestly with their caregivers, we work to ensure that they are comfortable in their environment. Painting, storytelling, and other play activities can help little ones address a serious topic. Our childcare teams share textbooks and ideas and they facilitate activities and gatherings. This way we show the children that we take them seriously and that it is quite normal to be afraid of things. We listen and give the children and youth our full attention. If we don't explain it well, children may resort to fantasy arguments to compensate for a lack of information. Our childcare workers clarify all the doubts they may have, in a simple way transmitting calm and security. If they do not have all the answers, they are honest and look together for answers.
Our children and youth are worried about the health of their siblings and families. “Is my grandma going to be okay?” is an understandable question for a child living in an NPH home. Anxiety can flow the other way, too; adult pequeños who are living independently outside the homes are anxious to hear about their younger brothers and sisters. Relatives are uncertain about their children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. We provide reassurance to the children and youth by informing them about the health status of their family members and that they know how to protect and take care of themselves. We facilitate contact with extended family via telephone, WhatsApp messaging, and through our social workers.
We update the children’s biological families about protection protocols within NPH homes so that they feel informed and are more willing to collaborate with the measures, like a ban of visitors, that have been implemented.
We are also in contact with our students who live in bigger cities near the universities—and are subject to national curfews—to ensure that no one, whether near or far in the NPH family, is forgotten.
Childcare in times of COVID-19 is a huge challenge but it is also an opportunity to spend quality time together as a family.
Please support our NPH homes during this time of need. Any help you can give is well received and accepted graciously. Please visit nph.org for more information.
Coordinator, NPHI Family Services