Parents of young children have been urged to continue to stimulate their children and not neglect them due to the stress they face because of the current pandemic.

South Africa went on lockdown in March 2020 and since then thousands have lost their jobs and are facing an uncertain, stressful period.  Meanwhile, schools and Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers have closed giving parents and primary caregivers almost all the responsibility in making sure that their children’s developmental needs are met, especially in poor communities where online learning is still just a dream.

“Being pregnant or having a young child is stressful on its own, adding the effects of this pandemic to an already stressful period makes things worse but regardless of what parents are going through, they cannot afford to neglect the developmental needs of their children,” says Tabea Nong, a Neuro-Linguistic Programming Life Coach and the former host of Flourish Soweto,  a platform that offers helps mothers through the critical first 1000 days of the child’s life.

Ms Nong said particularly, parents of children who are still within their first 1000 days of life must do their best despite the circumstances to make sure that this important window of developmental opportunity in the child does not fall victim to Covid-19.

The first 1000 days refer to the period between conception and the second birthday of a child. According to research, these first 1000 days of life present an important opportunity to lay the intellectual, physical, emotional and relational foundations for a successful future.

During this time, how well children are fed, the quality of stimulation for their brains and bodies, and the relationships they have with parents or primary caregivers determine how well they will do in school and later in life as adults.

“It’s a tragedy for parents to think that learning starts when children start school. How well your child will perform in life depends on how much you stimulate them now, learning is a continuous process that happens every day, parents cannot afford to not stimulate their children,” said Ms Nong.

She said because of the situation most people find themselves in, it is also important for parents to recognize that they need to take care of themselves before they can do so for their children.

“Have a sense of self-awareness, understand how you are feeling, and do not try to avoid it. Recognize when you are not feeling okay so you can manage those emotions,” Ms Nong said.

She encourages primary caregivers to seek “healthy” coping mechanisms.

“If running works for you, run. If walking works for you, walk. If praying works for you, pray. Then Find ways to include your children in those things. Walk with them, play with them, paint with them, read with them, find creative ways to make sure that your child is still developing, physically, intellectually, emotionally and relationally. Doing things with them will help them feel secure and bond with you more because they are spending time with a person they are attached to the most.”

This article was produced as part of aRe Bapaleng, a programme run by Seriti Institute to equip primary caregivers of children at Early Childhood Development stages with the tools for optimal development for their children. For more resources on ECD, click here.