/ 16 July 2020

Here’s the story: The psychological effects of the pandemic on children

Graphic Backtoschool Twitter
(John McCann/M&G)

Nelson Mandela stood both for children and their education. The reopening of schools this July is a contentious issue which has been argued from both a logistical and an educator’s perspective. To coincide with Mandela Day, Nal’ibali — South Africa’s reading-for-enjoyment campaign  —  will be leading the discussion from a child’s perspective, focusing specifically on their rights to education and well-being. 

The campaign will be hosting a free WhatsApp webinar on Thursday, July 16, between 3pm and 5pm with Christina Nomdo, the Western Cape Commissioner for Children’s Rights; Professor Joanne Hardman, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Cape Town’s School of Education; and Xolisa Guzula, a PhD candidate focusing on language, literacy and biliteracy development, and multilingual teaching. 

The discussion will highlight the psychological effects on children of staying at home, going back to school and how caregivers can support them through these transitions.

Hardman explains: “Human beings are essentially social beings. The very development of our sense of self has been proven by neuroscience to rely on interaction with others. Isolation, therefore, is likely to lead to anxiety and depression and a general loss of a sense of well-being for both young children and teenagers.

Young children and teenagers rely on their peers to know who they are and where they fit in the world. Early research confirms that teenagers in particular are expressing feelings of loneliness, which affects their well-being. 

“The pandemic has placed parents and teachers in a catch-22 situation. Do you send your children to school where they could be infected and potentially infect other family members, or do you homeschool, bearing in mind that their psychological development could be impacted? It’s a terribly difficult choice to be faced with,” Hardman says. 

Caregivers wanting to find out more about how their children may be experiencing the transition back to school, and how to support them using simple techniques such as role playing and sharing stories, are invited to join Nal’ibali’s free webinar directly or they can visit the Nal’ibali website for more details. 

Further information on supporting children emotionally and academically is also available in the special July edition of the Nal’ibali bilingual story supplement available for free download from the Nal’ibali website and in selected newspapers. 

Created in collaboration with the C-19 People’s Coalition, the new edition includes practical tips and guides for supporting learning from home, and for helping children to process their feelings. It also features a South African COVID-19 children’s story by award-winning author, Lorato Trok. 

Yandiswa Xhakaza, Nal’ibali’s chief executive says: “As children prepare to go back to school, they may be experiencing mixed emotions. They may be excited to see their friends, but they may also be worried about exposure to the virus and getting sick. It is often difficult for children to name and talk about their feelings, but we can help them by using stories to identify different feelings and to spark the conversations that will help them to process their thoughts and feelings.

For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of SA languages, visit www.nalibali.org, or send the word ‘stories’ to 060 044 2254 . You can also find Nal’ibali on Facebook and Twitter: @nalibaliSA.