According to the World Health Organization’s Ncovid19 situational report on its website as at May, 2020; there are 4, 006 257 cases with 278 892 deaths globally. Interestingly, there seems missing from the data, documented cases on the number of children infected globally. The trend is no different in Ghana with no child-specific Ncovid19 public health education in Ghana.

I am sadly surprised by how the media and other stakeholders’ engagements on the pandemic have widely targeted adults of consenting age groups and perhaps unconsciously isolated children as one of its major risk group for intensive child-sensitive public health education.

The aims of this article are in two folds. First, this is to help parents self-drive an inclusive-hygiene practice approach by equipping their children with the relevant knowledge. Second is to draw the attention of stakeholders’ role in adopting child-appropriate Covid public health education. Schools at some point will reopen and our collective success with this covid education will obviously feed into our children’s survival.

In a bookshop and then later at a shopping mall, I was overly concerned to find a mother all masked out and her children unmasked. I have noticed this phenomenon quite often. On one unusual occasion, I cautioned a baker in a somewhat polite manner and insisted not to purchase bread from her bakery shop if I found her daughter unmasked the next time.

Largely, media responses to the covid experience have targeted adults. The president’s covid nation address have targeted discerning adults and sections of the population with special needs. Critically, children have been left out of this whole public health education experience. I have been looking forward to see cartoonists explore animated versions of the hygiene practices of the Covid experience in local languages and dialects with child-friendly voice note expert guidelines on covid.

None of the widely circulated public health education has targeted our children by using children-sensitive and appropriate child-friendly interventions to engage our children’s seminal minds on the pandemic. There are indigenous systems of knowledge transition for children in Africa. The peak of the covid health global crisis presents an opportunity to illustrate our African version of the covid experience through dance, Ananse story-telling, the talking-drums and poems to facilitate a virtual children’s covid community engagement.

My first observation for this article evolved from my 7 year old son.  At the peak of the rising infections, I explored varied modalities to sustain his attention on the virus/pandemic and its required hygiene practices. I’d finally realized that it’s taking a while to have the little chap consolidate ideas on this critical pandemic.

My first recommendation is that parents should self-educate and understand the developmental phase of their children. The age of your child will inform how to approach the recommended tips. There are also self-help books to help with this. Developmental phase or milestone simply means that at various stages of growth, your child’s mind is opened to appreciate and process the world differently. 

Interestingly, psychologists propose the ‘theory of the mind’ to assert that children below age five may exhibit less mental abilities to infer the mental states of other people. This simply means that from about 0- 4.9 years, it is likely that your child’s views about the world are ‘egocentric’ or self-centred. At this stage of development, children perceive the world in a one-way dimension.

Thus, there can be nothing varied from how they see and interpret the world. It is possible your children may not see any imminent danger with Covid-19, so children will touch their nose, mouth and eyes and everyone else and may not think others especially trusted adults/family could predispose them to the virus.

Simple tips for Parents/Caregivers

Engage your children in a Covid ‘talk -cure’. Talk-cure is simply goal-directed talking. For your children, this may reflect a ‘simple- talk’ but for parents, this must be goal-driven talking. This means that parents must have some cursory goals to be achieved on this Covid-19 talk-cure. In language socialization, psychologists recommend that mothers used an infant-directed speech to communicate.

There’s no fast rule about this. Do not worry much if the child does not seem to comprehend. Help your children talk out perceptions on the pandemic anyway. By speaking about the pandemic and their ideas about what it means to them; you as a parent, a caregiver or an active agent of child support open up a window of opportunity to correct critically any misinformation and its ensuing psychological consequences.

For example, whenever my nine-year-old girl listens to an official news update on the pandemic, she picks a pen and notes down the number of recorded infected cases. My first instinct has been to willfully distract her from listening in on current updates on the soaring numbers. After careful thoughts and putting on my psychological hat, I figured throwing in thought-provoking suggestions to excite her newfound expedition of noting down the number of infected cases would help.

So I surveyed her thoughts on Covid-19 and found that her patterns of thoughts on Covid-19 were more centralized on infected cases. How about the recovery rates, I asked?  Later, I’d find that her thoughts opened up to accommodate the infected cases, the recovery rates and the asymptomatic cases. She calls it the ‘good, the bad and the ugly’.

The good now depicts the soaring recovery rates, the bad-the infected cases, the ugly- the asymptomatic cases. Sometimes polarized thinking may simplify useful information for children through chunking (aggregating the similar pieces of meaningful information for memory storage) and this Covid-19 presents good timing to experiment with this.

Use pictures, paintings or drawings for children with limited speech capacities.

This point may augur well for all children but the approach is specifically effective for children with limited speech capacities (children learning to speak) and children with special needs. In typical children likely less than five years old; pictures are used to derive an inventory of thought patterns and their representations of the world and also to consolidate carefully, children’s ideations on worldview. It works both ways. First, pictures, drawings or paintings serve as a window to peep into children’s world of thoughts and second also to inform others of what kind of representations or what psychologists call ‘schema’ are represented for covid ideas, concepts etc.

The advantages of this approach are numerous. More importantly, the approach provides useful information on what the child may be thinking about the virus and the expert guidelines on covid. Help them consolidate ideas on the pandemic by providing refined information to your child’s representations on the pandemic by working out with drawing/painting activities.

Every detail counts in this fun ‘play therapy’.  Specifically, the type of colour used to show their mental representations of the pandemic. Allow the children to explore with their own choice of colours. For example, if they showed an all- black painting or dark colour to reflect the pandemic which may likely symbolize the increasing death toll, panic states or the scary nature of the virus; you as a parent could also suggest some white or pink coloured patches to reflect the critical recovery rates. The caveat here is that parents must ensure that their children acquire balanced information on the pandemic (for e.g. talk about infected cases and recovery rates and protective measures). This activity helps correct any information distortions and ensure that any discrepancy does not morph into future psychological problems or post-traumatic stress for your children.

In atypical children, use the same principles. It works best for both typical and atypical children although needs and the required levels of attention may vary slightly.

Expert advice suggests building our immunity is key to fighting this covid pandemic and while children cannot rigorously engage in tedious physical exercises by promoting drawings/paintings, you as a parent help improve their fine motor skills which are a form of brilliant exercise. In fact, in some related studies, researchers Angulo-Barroso found significant variations between Ghanaian infants and US infants on fine motor task with plastic toys best performed by US infants. Other factors such as the nutritional state of the child also affected the mental or neurological state of the child. So ensure that your child eats healthy meals since nutrition enhances children’s learning tasks.

Use visual images/Animations

Parents can explore animations in preferred languages of your choice to help tell the stories of the Covid-19 pandemic. Parents can show visuals and then adopt child-friendly voices to tell the stories behind the visuals. Parents or caregivers can also help their children to understand what a virus is by showing pictures together with gestures to help them appreciate this. Psychologists call this pre-and proto-communicative gestures which are necessary precursors for adequate language development and assimilation of concepts when language is limited.

My seven-year-old says ‘a virus is like a germ and you cannot see with your real eyes’.  I’ve corrected this statement severally. Now, I can appreciate that this is how his mind works to accept the concept of the covid pandemic and this is quite protective for him. ‘The virus is like a germ and germs make you sick’ he says, but my 9 year old on the contrary understands that although viruses cause imminent infections, a virus varies from a germ. Please use pictures as well to reinforce the hygiene practices and the number of times required by expert guidelines for this.

Use pictures to communicate social and physical distancing. Use pictures to depict masking-make it fun. You could use ‘ninja’ pictures or print out favourite cartoon characters or pictures and have the kids mask these characters with their crayon and pencils. Use toys to demonstrate the obvious differences in meaning between social and physical distance. 

Do this demonstration repeatedly. Be creative! Parents, be reminded to use what developmental psychologists call ‘affect -sharing’ with the presentation of your visuals or illustrations. It simply means one should be cautious of the corresponding emotions elicited by parents during displays-it is likely that the same emotions will be exhibited when the child reproduces the concept on Covid-19 or the required hygiene practices.

Remember to always provide feedback

Providing feedback helps in two ways. First, it is an opportunity for parents to cross-check if some goals have been achieved for the covid play set-up/education. This is also to update the child on his/her performance. Every fun play activity must be goal-directed.

Constructive feedback is a protective factor for kids. In totality, it builds their personal confidence and enhances their sense of resilience. Avoid criticizing the child-this experience should be a fun learning process. This learning process should not be a ‘one shot’ event with huge expectations for positive feedback.

The learning process should be gradual and the length of activities or play should be directed by the age of the child, attention span and their significant levels of emotional intelligence as well. The younger they are, most likely the shorter their attention span, thus the greater need to navigate different activities to sustain attention and arouse interest.

Positively reinforce the child.

The idea of positive reinforcement is a very simple and productive one. For any round of desired output on the Covid-19 pandemic, please give something desirable to reward your child. The reward can be random, systematic or gradual. You know your child best and it will be difficult to prescribe what is appropriate and so much desired by the child.

The psychology behind reinforcement is that your child is encouraged to sustain knowledge and behavioural expectations on the pandemic and required hygiene practices. Obviously, an opportunity to build up the child’s personal competencies towards resilience. 

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The author is a psychologist who translates clinical, social and organizational psychology principles into simple practical tips for everyday living. The author is the CEO of PsycCare Consult. Email: yvonne737@yahoo.com or yvonneotubea@gmail.com