Is your family emotionally prepared for the national lockdown?

Parents need to step up.
Parents need to step up.

On Monday 23 March, President Ramaphosa addressed the nation to announce that due to the dramatic increase of confirmed cases of Covid-19 (from 61 to 402 over eight days!), South Africa would follow in the footsteps of countries like China, the US and Italy in implementing a national lockdown.

"Immediate, swift and extraordinary action is required if we are to prevent a human catastrophe of enormous proportions in our country," the president said regarding the 21-day lockdown which will begin at midnight on Thursday, 26 March and end on Thursday, 16 April. 

According to the president, all South Africans (with the exception of essential service providers) will be required to remain in their homes, leaving only to seek medical care, to purchase food supplies, or to collect a social grant.

And although welcomed, many of us may be left in a state of shock as to what the lockdown could mean for our families and what daily life will look like under quarantine. 

What to expect

"Many in isolation experience a sense of 'cabin fever'. This often involves feeling dissatisfied, restless, irritable and bored when confined," explains Griffith University researchers.

The Australian academics further clarify that at the start, quarantine may "provide a novel respite from daily responsibilities. However, this can quickly become stressful and anxiety-provoking." 

The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that children and teens may be particularly vulnerable to stress during quarantine, and parents should not be too surprised to find their children prone to changing sleeping and eating patterns, and may even note an increase in irritability.

"Children and teens react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children."

To help you with ways to provide that support, we've compiled a list of tips by mental health experts from around the world. 

Tips to help your family stay mentally healthy 

Start with a discussion

Melbourne psychology professor and parenting expert Prof Lea Waters says open discussion is the best way to ensure family members understand and commit to their roles and responsibilities during quarantine. 

"I'd suggest at the very start the family sit down and devise a family contract. Have a discussion: what do you think will be the biggest challenges? What are the strengths that we each have as an individual family member that can help out?" 

Try to maintain a daily routine

Working on creating some form of structure will be very helpful says Professor Waters who advises that "Routines are always helpful for people to see an endpoint."

This doesn't have to be too strict says the CDC who urge parents to focus on both the educational and enjoyable, making time for "learning activities and relaxing or fun activities." 

Stay active

Being confined to indoor spaces can be especially frustrating for younger children says clinical psychologist at Sydney's Macquarie University, Dr Carly Johnco who points to the lack of physical activity as the culprit. 

"Frustration and boredom can come when kids are not getting the opportunities to be physically active." 

To curb pent up frustrations, the CDC recommends adding physical activities that the entire family enjoys to the daily routine.  

"Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy." 

Minimise screentime

"It could be tempting for people to just sit in front of the telly for two weeks," says Dr Johnco who warns that "The novelty of that will wear off quite quickly." 

While screens provide an easy way to stay occupied Dr Johnco says parents should encourage their children to turn to board games, crafts or reading in addition to spending time in front of a screen. 

Make sure to give each member their space 

The old adage that familiarity breeds content should be kept in mind says Dr Johnco, explaining that being too close for comfort is particularly tough for families with members who are used to doing things alone. 

To remedy this, Professor Waters advises creating spaces and zones in your house for alone time. 

"I would create spaces in the house, if possible, like little zones – 'This is our game zone. This bean bag with a headset is our chill-out corner.'" 

Find more helpful resources below: 

How are you preparing your family for the national lockdown? What are your tips? 

Compiled for Parent24 by Lesley-Anne Johannes. 

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