Protecting our children traumatised by violence

These are uncertain times in South Africa – not only are we dealing with the COVID pandemic but also civil unrest, looting, and violence centred in KwaZulu-Natal province. CHIVA Africa recognises that these recent experiences were particularly traumatic for children and the South African Society of Psychiatrists is very concerned that there may be an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder among children. The reality is that we have experienced a hugely traumatic event and our children have watched burning buildings, citizens looting, experienced roadblocks, heard gunshots and the subsequent shortages of basic foods – all of which can result in anxiety and depression in both the short and longer term. As parents and caregivers, we will have to play a crucial role to assist our children to deal with these traumas and prevent any long-term anxiety and depression in our children.

The following are ideas of how we can support our children to process their feelings effectively:

  • Admit that the events happened and acknowledge the reality of being scared, worried, or upset – these are normal feelings.
  • Do not pretend that this is all normal, but rather focus on the positives and how the police are assisting, how communities are working together and supporting each other, and that the situation is improving.
  • Share that the situation is anxiety-provoking for everyone and be supportive. Talk through their fears and discuss how these can be overcome.
  • Provide structure by scheduling activities indoors e.g.: watching a movie together, puzzle-building, cooking, baking, arts, and crafts – anything to distract them from the trauma. Children should be encouraged to express their fears by talking, drawing, writing, and by keeping in touch with friends and family.
  • Limit or supervise viewing of news and social media. Repeatedly watching negative or violent news coverage or social media posts can intensify feelings of anxiety and fear. Watch news items together and discuss how the situation has improved etc.
  • Focus on the positive that you and your child/ren are safe, have a home and food. If food shortages are a reality – remind them that people are helping to keep children safe and fed and discuss what you as a family and community are doing to overcome this.
  • Allow children to feel that they can also help by posting messages of care, collecting food for donations (especially those not directly affected), and involve them in community clean-up operations. Children can also collect or donate their own toys, games, and stationery for children in the communities most affected.
  • Look after your own mental health and anxiety. Parents and caregivers need to be emotionally well for their children and if you need help, seek assistance from family, friends and your community or reach out for expert support from the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (0800 567 567) a clinic, or a doctor.

CHIVA Africa is responding to these challenges by educating rural health workers in KwaZulu-Natal on how to build resilience in children, adolescents, and their communities to overcome the negative impacts experienced during the recent civil unrest and to move forward with hope and confidence in a better tomorrow for all South Africans.

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