Helping our youngest children cope in times of uncertainty

By Kim Bone (Group Curriculum Manager) and Nikeeta Singh (Founder/Director)

It’s hard to imagine that in January and February 2020 we were thinking of the impact that the drought was having on all our lives. Now in March we have something much more significant that we are facing on a global scale with the COVID-19 pandemic.

While we know it is tough to keep our anxieties in check around our children, we must be mindful that children pick up on our insecurities when we feel stress and pressure.  Our best efforts and best practices and role modelling all ensure that we are keeping ourselves, our children and our families safe by:

  • following correct handwashing procedures,
  • sneezing and coughing into our elbows,
  • using tissues and putting them in the bin,
  • keeping social distance, and
  • isolating ourselves when we are feeling sick.

There is also concern about the financial impact of how this is going to play out in the coming weeks and months ahead. A positive fact is that NZ has implemented stringent safety measures and has done this early, including a nation-wide border closure of all in-bound travellers (except NZ’ders returning home). This has put NZ in a far better position than other countries were in when they first reached double digit cases of COVID-19.

ECE Centres are among the safest places to be

At Alert Level 2 and Alert Level 3, many companies have put in place initiatives for people to work from home.  At Level 2 and Level 3, schools and early childhood centres can operate, but with tighter health and safety protocols.  These places are seen as safe places to be in due to their robust health and safety policies that they are required to follow.

On 18 March 2020, CEO of the NZ Early Childhood Council, Peter Reynolds, reassured over 1300 childcare centre members nationwide that: “It’s obviously a distressing and worrying time for everyone, but our message is ‘ECE centres are some of the safest places around.” Also, “This is a situation that’s changing fast, and we’re monitoring all developments closely. Our message is to only keep your children home if they’re sick, ECE centres are safe places for them to be,”

To further support and validate this, our centres in Avondale (Chrysalis), Blockhouse Bay (Magic Kingdom) and Tauranga (Fern Garden) have the following systems and actions in place:

  1. we are well stocked with hand sanitisers and have several months’ supply in reserve (i.e. these are commercial packs from suppliers, not the retail / grocery store hand pumps);
  2. our teachers regularly sanitise resources, furniture and toys during the day;
  3. only easily cleanable surface resources are brought out for play;
  4. extra deep cleans by our commercial cleaners;
  5. we have cancelled all centre excursions for now. There is ample exciting discovery, exploration and fun awaiting our children still in our nature-packed playgrounds. Personally, I can never get tired or bored with nature – there’s always something new everytime I look around!
  6. we have cancelled all meetings with external visitors to our centres for now;
  7. if any teacher or parent is unwell they are not allowed to come to our centre for now, following advice by the Prime Minister here: https://covid19.govt.nz/;
  8. if any parent feels unwell during the day, and if there is no other pickup option for the child, then before picking up their child, they must not enter our centre, but instead they can call our centre and wait outside the front entrance and one of our teachers will sign out and bring their child to them. The parent should then contact Healthline on 0800 358 5453, for their next steps, before returning to our centre. Until then rule #7 applies.
  9. any new parents transitioning, enrolling and booked in for a tour must be asymptomatic and must use our hand sanitisers or wash their hands on site before starting the tour;
  10. we are encouraging physical distancing in the most kindest and understanding manner as possible for our children to understand. We are even letting them create and lead new rules for us too (i.e. practicing their role as our future leaders), based on the Prime Minister’s advice here: https://covid19.govt.nz/;
  11. all children must wash their hands when they enter the centre and then wash their hands when they leave too;
  12. we are providing moisturising hand creams for our teachers who are continually washing their hands;
  13. East Cost waves and Salutes only at our centre. Who knew that the Army was so cool and trendy for hundreds of years!!

Furthermore, we were fortunate that we responded quickly and seriously to this, and nobody connected with our centre had been in close contact with someone who has been confirmed as having COVID-19.

What Should You Do at Home?

Keeping our families protected is our priority and this includes well-being and mental health. As adults, we are responsible for keeping our children safe, helping them feel settled and creating environments for happy memories as much possible, and this means continuing routines as much as practical.  If that means going to childcare, then continue to do so, because as you can see above, some good high quality ECE centres are actually much cleaner and more hygienic than average households. I must admit that I do not wipe down all home surfaces and door handles in my home on the hour, every hour!

We are definitely not mincing words with our advice and we have also reminded all our parents at our centre to ensure they use our hand sanitisers or wash their hands if they have had ANY encounter with things outside our centres like:

  • petrol pumps
  • EFTPOS machines
  • shopping trolleys
  • shopping door handles
  • money (notes and coins)
  • etc etc.

Other great tips and gems we have given to our parents are as follows:

  • Educate yourself from reliable sources only – not social media;
  • If talking among friends or colleagues, then use your ‘smart’ phone to fact check or research anything you need in that conversation, right there and then, to make sure you are all talking about facts and not rumours;
  • Choose to be around positive people;
  • Discuss your older children’s access to social media and the potentially inaccurate information that floats around on this platform. Remind them what our Prime Minister said to the nation on 19/3/20, “When you see those messages, remember that unless you hear it from us, it is not the truth”;
  • To avoid distressing news in front or your children during ‘children’s time’, turn off mainstream TV and use Netflix or another streaming platform. You can always catch up on news later at night or continually on radio.
  • Read books to your children. The most calming sound that can ground your child’s world is the sound of your voice. You could be reciting Shakespeare or reading Einsteins’ paper on the theory of relativity – your child won’t care and will only love your voice as the last thing they hear before falling asleep;
  • When driving and trying to again avoid distressing news just before you drop your children off to school, try turning off the radio and listen to Spotify or download an audiobook. You can always pick up on the news headlines on the half hour and hour at any time of the day.

…some high quality ECE centres are actually much cleaner and more hygienic than average households…

Get Outside, Get Offline, Get Onto it!

On a positive, this gives us an wonderful opportunity for balance.  Get outside and get some fresh air.  Nature is an awesome leveller and gives us perspective on what the bigger picture really is.  Nature shows us what resilience means.

Planting up a vegetable garden so that you can relax, reconnect, and recharge in nature, as well as have a supply of fresh vegetables over the coming months is a great project for young and old.  I have also repurposed some of my pots and using these to plant up lettuces and spinach.  Baking and cooking are also excellent skills to teach children, young and old.  Pull out the old board games or take up a new hobby.  This may also be a great time to take up online learning.

It’s vital to take ourselves outside and off-line to reduce the stress we are feeling.  Concentrate on things that we can control.  Appreciate the people and beauty in our lives.  Be kind to yourself and others.  Help out where we can.  Support local shops and buy NZ made products where possible.  This is also an excellent opportunity to build community spirit again and look after those who are less fortunate. And smile.

And remember, the more time we spend with our children, the more they will feel secure.  You know your children the best.  Knowing what you can share with them and how much they can absorb is key.

Informative Sources for Children:

The Ministry of Education suggests that if you are going to talk to your children about COVID-19 it is important to give them accurate information that is factual and age appropriate so that they feel informed and in control.  They need to feel like they have been listened to and their fears have been addressed. Some excellent sources are as follows:

Ministry of EducationTalking to children about COVID-19 (novel coronavirus).  Guidance for parents, caregivers, whānau and teachers

Nanogirl (Dr. Michelle Dickinson) has an informative videos explaining COVID-19 for children. 

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