Wed | Jun 23, 2021

Audrey Hinchcliffe | COVID-19: Are we listening to our children?

Published:Wednesday | May 12, 2021 | 12:07 AM

For the purpose of this article, children are anyone below the age of majority which, according to The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, is “a human being below the age of 18 years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”. The aggravating situation relating to children in the face of the coronavirus infection and COVID-19 are multifaceted, among which are loss of family members; the disconnect from teachers and school friends and the support usually available at schools, such as meals and social services; and safe space in communities, with or without supervision from parent or guardians.

The coronavirus pandemic is continuing despite a variety of protocols, edicts, and the start of vaccinations. The latter for children seems a long way off. Messages are mixed and varied, so that is why I have a concern that our children are not factored into the mix for special and targeted ones at their level. The coronavirus disease affects children too in many ways so their voices, in this regard, must be heard.

May is Child Month, so it is befitting that plans and programmes for celebration take into consideration an area of focus on children and the effects of the coronavirus.

The economic situation at home, brought on by economic conditions worldwide, are triggers for children to be left out of protocols, plans and messaging -- and what of children with special needs, and underlying health issues? We must be mindful of the impact on them, too. I have viewed the planned programmes by the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information, Child Protection and Family Services Agency, National Parenting Support Commission, among others, but I am unable to find a single item dedicated to children and the coronavirus.

The first thing that comes to mind is children and wearing mask. What is the age group, the appropriate type of mask and the spaces in which mask must be worn? Then comes the size for best fit and the type of material. Children with certain health issues have been known to wear mask to protect themselves against transmission of respiratory virus and bacteria-causing illness. Examples are cancer and cystic fibrosis, among others. The type of mask will be prescribed by their health provider. COVID-19 dictate for mask wearing has generated conversations for, against, and varied; however, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund are the reference point for this, from toddlers to teens.

This responsibility seems to fall on parents to listen to their children and be educated themselves to be able to respond and give guidance. But public policy must also take the needs of children into consideration when planning celebratory and other programmes in the age of the coronavirus pandemic.

The other big topic is protocols. What are children saying about them, and do they really understand which ones relate to them specifically during the coronavirus pandemic? They probably do not understand why they cannot visit their grandparents, go to school, play with friends etc. This is not easy, but we must try to explain the guidelines in a way that children feel it is not controlling, but, rather, they are steps to protect them from exposure to the virus, and to prevent them from getting sick.

All homes are not equal for virtual school activities. From space, gadgets, help with lessons and food, therefore, home is not a substitute for school. If adults are having issues, staring at a computer screen for online activities, I cannot imagine a child having to stare at a laptop, tablet, or phone. The toll on their eyes and their psyche can be tremendous. How we handle complaints and interpret acting out must be rooted in a programme of hours of scheduled activities, breaks, nourishment, and healthcare. If lack of socialising is getting to adults, which drives them to partying - regardless of restrictions - just as how they devise ways to socialise, children too need the outlet, and sometimes this can be seen as they are caught up in raids of unauthorised gatherings. Children must feel safe and be occupied. Adults must supervise and observe them and be prepared to reassure them to reduce anxiety, and reinforce the fact that you are acting in their best interest, by listening and explaining in a manner they can understand. This way, they will trust you and not be influenced by external sources.

Staying at home can be a positive experience if the time is used wisely to inform, educate, and reassure. The different age groupings will require age-appropriate communication. The National Association of School Psychology provides guidelines in ‘Helping Children Cope with Changes Resulting from COVID-19’ ( naspoline.org).

Adults must be role models for children, as they look to us for guidance to help them cope when all else fails. Listening remains a constant, but are we listening to the children?

Audrey Hinchcliffe is chief executive officer and founder, Manpower and Maintenance Services Ltd Group.

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