How to cope during the national lockdown: A local psychologist advises on keeping your family grounded

The parent making such application, called the Applicant, may visit the nearest Magistrate’s Court to apply for child maintenance.
The parent making such application, called the Applicant, may visit the nearest Magistrate’s Court to apply for child maintenance.

In a letter addressing the nation, President Cyril Ramaphosa described the coronavirus pandemic as "the most formidable of challenges," one that has hurtled the country into trying and testing times.

Shared hours before his announcement regarding the 21-day national shutdown (beginning 26 March and ending 16 April), the president's letter assured South Africans that the "crisis will not debilitate our nation."

Additionally, the president urged that "we navigate our way through the difficult times that lie ahead."

Reaching out to local psychologist and psychoanalyst Enzo Sinisi, we asked his expert advice on how best parents and caregivers can go about navigating through the panic and fear that has become a part everyday life. 

Providing us with an emotional navigation guide, here's what Sinisi shared with Parent24 on keeping yourself and your family mentally sound during the lockdown period.  

Implement structure

As a rule, people tend to underestimate the importance of routines.

It's easy to take for granted how simple structures create opportunities for social contact (saying hello to the security guard), breaks (the drive), play (banter with colleagues), and work.

These play an essential role in keeping us calm, content and connected.

Your first port of call in remaining calm is to take control of your outside world. 

Actively establish a daily routine

Aim to match the one you are used to but accept that, if you are now at home with young children, this may not be possible.

If that's the case, prepare a child-friendly routine.

A daily routine will help contain your fear and anxiety while helping your children remain calm and manageable.

  • Set times aside for family and allocate different calm promoting activities, such as finger painting at 10:00, free play at 11:00, monopoly at 14:00, child yoga video at 15:00.
  • Proactively schedule video contacts with friends and relatives (yours and your children's).
  • Preplanning daily chores and protocols like how to get supplies, who will go, how far from others to stand, when to wash hands, and so on, all help create a sense of control.
  • Remember, uncertain times bring surprises which means you'll need to revisit your plan and adjust your routine as needed.  

Control your media intake

Limit your digital consumption to the amount necessary to remain informed, no more than that. Include it in your schedule. 

Avoid unofficial media channels. 

Take care of your inner world

  • Focusing on your agency in any situation can help promote a sense of control and reduce stress. Instead of repeating "I can't do anything anymore!" aim for "We are pulling together to slow the spread. I'm going to use this time to organise my garden and get to know my kids." 
  • Own up to your feelings. Putting feelings into words and listening to others express theirs is often profoundly healing. Help those around you (especially your children) to label their emotions and invite them to help you do the same.
  • If you find yourself worrying, check-in to see if the thing you are worried about is something you can influence. If not, move on to something you can. Repeat each time to come back to the worry.
  • Practice returning to and remaining in the present. It is normal to imagine how bad things can get, but we can't predict the future. Focus on the now, what's happening around you in this moment, where you are standing, what are you busy with? 

Don't forget the physical

  • It is challenging to keep a healthy state of mind (and immunity) without looking after your physical self. 
  • Eat as well as is possible. Focus on healthy choices. 
  • Schedule exercise. Even if you have never exercised before, try one of the multitudes of apps designed to help with this. 
  • Rough and tumble play is more than just fun for children. It is a biological need. Without it, children become distractible and unruly. Try incorporating physical games into your routine and exercise.

Contain your children

Children respond to stress differently to adults. We might look sad, worry about what's going to happen and turn to others for support.

Children, on the other hand, develop head and tummy aches, become clingy, defiant, demanding, hyperactive, aggressive, loud, and might refuse to sleep or be alone. 

These tips can help you keep your children calm

  • Protect young children from rolling news broadcasts and information that they can't understand or digest. You can tell if a repeated scene on TV is far away and only happened once. Young children cannot. Avoid discussing anxiety-inducing things in their presence. They understand you, even when you speak in code. 
  • Engage with them. Show affection and reassure them that you will take care of them.
  • Be open to receiving their feelings and thoughts. Even they seem unwarranted, accept them as valid. Answer their questions clearly and directly. Avoid complicated or frightening answers. 
  • Remain a calm and optimistic presence. Use stories from your own life to illustrate how adversity happens and is overcome.  

What if you need help?

We all need additional support and help from time to time, during a crisis, this is even more so.

If your feelings leave you unable to manage, or your child needs help, consider speaking to a professional. Many mental health professionals are responding to the pandemic by moving their practices online.

Find professionals like Enzo who offer online consultations, including therapy and parent coaching via

Compiled for Parent24 by Lesley-Anne Johannes. 

How are you helping your family cope with the current climate of crisis? 

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