Read time: 3 minutes

Helping children to cope with their fears about COVID-19

The College of Humanities will host a public webinar series on the topic of: "Helping children to cope with their fears about COVID-19" on Wednesday, 8 July, from 4pm-5pm. It features academics Professor Dipane Hlalele (UKZN), Professor Jace Pillay (University of Johannesburg), Dr Damien Tomaselli (Transmedia), and will be chaired by Professor Deevia Bhana (UKZN).

In the context of COVID-19, global patterns in dealing with the disease has seen the closure of schools and educational institutions, including daycare and early childhood sectors. In the absence of formal research that understands and addresses children's fears about the disease, the panel will expand discussion about best practices that deal with their anxieties.

"Children are active knowledge producers throughout the life course. This means that facts about the disease should be raised with children in age-appropriate ways that are effective for children's understanding of disease. This will become more pronounced as and when schools open as social distancing or the lack of it may give rise to fears, fear of contagion, disease and stigma," said Bhana.

The panel will discuss the stigma and fear that breeds from poor knowledge, and interventions to address it. "Social distancing has also produced global narratives of the disease as 'other' and emerged in South Africa in relation to race and class privilege. We know that disease affects all people anywhere and everywhere, and even though children may be less compromised, children can be carriers too," said Bhana. "How do we address stigma? How do ensure that fear is reduced so that children understand social distancing as a biological disease phenomenon, but also steeped in social norms and stigma?"

In his address, Hlalele will explore 'shifting learning spaces' and concomitant expectations for children to cope and adapt to the 'new normal' without much orientation and support. "COVID-19 brought about a disruption in learning spaces and operations which children were familiar with. Children are expected to cope with the home as a learning space, parents/siblings/caregivers as stand-in teachers as well as navigating new ways of learning, including online learning platforms. The disruption demands of homes to be both supportive and productive learning spaces," said Hlalele.

In his presentation on how to help children cope with the COVID-19 disaster shock, Pillay noted that South Africa, like most of the countries across the globe, was declared a State of National Disaster due to COVID-19. "This led to a national lockdown for more than five weeks, which now continues at level four and three, and there is great uncertainty as to how long we will be in this situation. What we do know is that COVID-19 has drastically changed the lives of all people and children are no exception," said Pillay.

He will look at the anxieties, fears and stress experienced by children as a result of the virus and what could be done to support them. Pillay places special focus on the mental health experiences of children at different ages and stages of development and the type of knowledge and facts that they should be aware of by relevant stakeholders in relation to COVID-19.

He will emphasise how to identify, reassure and listen to the fears, anxieties and stress experienced by children while providing some practical examples of what could be done to assist children to relax.

Tomaselli will focus on helping children learn through visual storytelling enabled by new technologies. He will discuss a digital comic called 'Don't Panic', a must for any parent who is trying to work from home with young children constantly demanding attention. An international team to help increasingly exasperated parents to explain to their children why they are in lockdown and how to cope produced the comic, which also presents information about the coronavirus.

"We have a shared responsibility to address children's fears and parents and teachers are key to this obligation," said Bhana. The panel will seek to raise the involvement of key role-players in improving children's knowledge and addressing fear.

For more information, please contact:

Professor Deevia [email protected] 288 1383

Professor Jace [email protected] 462 8594

Professor Dipane [email protected] 379 9328

Damien [email protected] 617 7587

Please click here to view the PDF in detail.