Home-schooling and learning: tips from clinical psychologist Candice Cowen


Many parents became instant teachers as South African schools closed in March. With plans to gradually reopen schools from June, there’s no doubt that children’s sense of safety could be challenged. Can it be that this generation will grow up afraid of human contact?

After weeks of stay-at-home orders and school closures, many parents are dreaming of handing the important role of schooling back to teachers. Many parents are also wondering whether or not these isolation measures will have a lasting effect on their children. Can it slow down emotional development, affect their academic performance or even their future career prospects?

Clinical Psychologist, Candice Cowen, weighs in on important developmental aspects and remote-learning. She reminds us that children are resilient and shares tips on how to support children.

Listen to Candice share her insights in her podcast – a part of the Discovery COVID-19 podcast series.

“It’s important to consider the developmental age of a child when talking to them about how they feel or when sharing information with them,” says Cowen. “Almost every aspect of children’s lives have been disrupted. It is affecting their physical and mental health, as well as their learning.”

Just like for adults, isolation could potentially have long-lasting mental health consequences like anxiety, depression and loneliness among younger children. Young children are particularly vulnerable to high levels of stress because it can affect their brain development.

Cowen says, “In my interactions with children, they are verbalising their worries about being isolated from friends and family, and even about catching the virus or dying from it. On the other hand, parents are unsure how to communicate with their children. They are wondering if this generation will grow up fearful of touching or standing too close to others. They’re asking if their children will know how to make friends or interact in groups?”

What do children need most?

Cowen reminds parents of the basics, saying, “Children thrive when their needs are met. This happens when they feel safe and protected, and when they have stable and nurturing family and community connections.”

“There are different things that give children a sense of safety while they explore the environment to make sense of the world and things that happen around them. Consistency of routines, predictable rules and consequences and clear expectations, are all things that teach children how to develop self-discipline and impulse control,” explains Cowen.

Acknowledge that this is not an easy time for parents

“The brain of a young child is like a sponge and it can absorb large amounts of information. School plays an important role in socialisation. And socialisation is key to helping with development. Recreating the school environment is really tricky. But there are things you can do to make the experience rewarding and relatively stress free,” she says.

Here is some advice to use the time for learning:

  • Children watch and learn from adults. They will observe not only what you say but also how you implement structure, ensure consistency or deal with emotions.
  • Children are resilient and can adapt. Educate yourself about normal emotional and behavioural development at every age so that you know how to support your child in the appropriate manner.
  • Children see spending time with parents as a big benefit. Use this as an opportunity to connect with your child throughout the day in different ways than you would before.
  • Boredom can be a good thing. Being bored sparks creativity. Children have to use their imaginations to develop and to gain a level of independence.
  • Give children responsibilities that are appropriate for their age. Completing tasks develops a child’s self-worth and confidence. It will grow their sense of awareness about health, illness, hygiene, safety and many other things that are important for emotional development.

“Set a routine. If possible, have children dressed and ready to eat breakfast at a set time on weekdays. This will help them adjust more easily when schools reopen,” reminds Cowen.

All medical information found on this website including content, graphics and images, is for educational and informational objectives only. Discovery Health publishes this content to help to protect and empower all South Africans by promoting a better understanding of COVID-19.

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