The psychological impact of Covid-19 on children

Last week I tuned in to Momentum’s bi-weekly webinar that focuses on consumer related topics. This webinar series is facilitated by Leanne Manas and the expert panel consisted of Dr. Boshoff Steenekamp, epidemiologogist at Momentum and Dr. Tshepiso Matentjie, educational psychologist. I do not have children, but even I was enthralled in this conversation.

As we know, government is busy strategising around when to send our children back to school and Dr. Steenekamp outlined the true risks for our children based on global stats and the biology of Covid-19 as it affects children in SA.

According to Dr. Steenekamp, children are significantly less affected than adults, accounting for only 1% of the global infection rate, with deaths being extremely rare. These are reassuring stats considering the government’s decision to reopen some grades on 1 June.

“Fortunately, we know that children are less likely to contract Covid-19, and if they do, they get a very mild case.  It  is very unlikely that children will spread the disease to others” said Dr. Steenekamp

He showed that multiple European family clusters were unlikely to be the index case (the first identified case in a group of related cases). In fact, his data cited a family in France where an infected child did not transmit the disease to anyone, despite being exposed to over 100 people.

Steenekamp concluded that infection and transmission rates in children happen less often and are less severe, but he cautions parents from letting these statistics embolden them with a false sense of security. Safety measures such as wearing masks, constant sanitisation and adhering to social distancing still need to be strictly exercised. He also warned that these statistics do not apply to children with underlying diseases, which renders them more vulnerable to the disease.

Joining Dr. Steenekamp was educational psychologist, Dr. Matentjie who shared her key insights into the psychological challenges that children may face as a result of the nationwide lockdown. These included the likes of secondary stress emanating from parents, disruption of routine, less socialisation and even the fact that parents have now become teachers too.

“As a parent you are the expert on your child’s development and how they adjust to change and pressure,” said Dr. Matentjie. “You are a first responder when it comes to facilitating their emotional, psychological and mental wellbeing, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In order to keep a close eye on a child’s mental stability, Dr. Matentjie has provided a helpful list of behaviours to watch out for, including self-harm, acting out, loss of interest and even night terrors. Once these behaviours are identified, Dr. Matentjie guided viewers through a five-step process which include:

1.       Awareness of the problem

2.       Understanding of the problem

3.       Regulation around how to correct the problem

4.       Correction of the problem

“As a first responder your self-care is paramount as it enables you to ’show up healthy’ and stay attuned to how your child presents emotionally, behaviourally and cognitively. Be open to listening to them and exploring possibilities about what can make them deal with this stressful period more effectively,” said Dr. Matentjie.

Head of Reputation Management and Public Relations at Momentum Metropolitan Holdings, Anneke Hanekom, said that this webinar series falls in line with the brand’s ethos of helping South Africans stay on the course of their your journey to success. “Momentum realises that COVID-19 has impacted all of us in an unprecedented way. We may feel uncertain or even anxious about how best to deal with the unchartered territory we find ourselves in. However, we aim to enable South Africans with good, solid information that will assist them in successfully navigating their unique journeys and change the trajectory of their 2020”.

Tamryn Sher
tamrynsher@gmail.com
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