IN times of change and crisis, the child is more vulnerable and needs special and extra care. The child has been affected by COVID-19, and most of the attention has been on how to overcome the scourge. Churches were closed, and the child had less or no Sunday school. Schools were closed, and children had little contact with their peers. Probably, their parents died, and they somehow forgot to know it, but the elderly did not care to take them through the process of healing.
In this article, I (JN) interviewed Keila Ochoa (KO) who is an author of children’s books and trainer from Mexico. Ochoa has published more than 20 books in Spanish, both fiction and non-fiction. Many of her novels describe Mexican culture and picturesque small towns, but she also enjoys writing fantasy for teenagers. Un Año con Dios (A Year with God), edited and co-written with other three Mexican women, was awarded bestseller devotional book in 2020 by Sepa (Spanish Evangelical Publishers Association). She is a long-time Media Associates International (MAI) trainer and she has been to several workshops and conferences in Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, Peru, and Bolivia, among others.
JN: We are going through the COVID-19 pandemic and children need to be protected. In such times, what are the needs for every child?
KO: I can think of three important needs. The first one is that children need to be listened to. Sometimes children don’t know how to express what they are feeling, this includes their fears and anxiety. Many children were angry because they could not go outside to play and their life changed. We usually think that because they don’t say it, they’re okay but it’s not true. They are suffering inside. So we need as adults to listen to them, to help them express what they feel, even if sometimes it’s anger. Sometimes they are crying, sometimes they might be feeling very frustrated, it does not matter. We need to listen to them without judging them.
The second one is that children need to interpret reality in a healthy way. When children started hearing about the coronavirus, and a lot of them thought, ‘I’m going to die. My parents are going to die, my grandparents are going to die, and the world is going to end’. As adults, sometimes we don’t tell them. There are scientific explanations to things that are happening and we need to tell these in their age level. We might not have fancy explanations, but we need to reassure them that what is happening has happened before. Not everybody is going to die. And for every crisis there are deaths of loved ones within families, we need also to help them interpret reality in the right way.
The third point, and this is very important, is that children need a safe person. They need a person to go to during a crisis. As parents, we are there for them but some parents are not. They were busy with their phones, they were working online, and they were having their own issues. Every child deserves a safe person. There are two questions that you can ask a child when they are going through a crisis. You can tell them that things have changed. I work at a school and at that school, we asked the children what things have changed. They said schooling. Of course, we were doing online lessons. Then we asked the most important question: what things have not changed? They said parents, family, and love and they also said God had not changed. I think that’s the most important thing that children need to know during a crisis. God does not change.
In fact, that’s where we get the major understanding or knowledge about what we get from God and we get it through the Bible. How do we convey this message from a biblical point of view in an understandable format to children?
We also get explanations from books, radio, and parents. During COVID-19, there was a moment when children could not interact with their peers but they needed something, probably they would stay the whole day watching TV, which might not have been okay, but how do we repackage ourselves so that we can make children closer to God?
I think the first thing is we should not forget them because we did forget them as a society. Schools did not know what to do. Churches didn’t know what to do. Nobody knew what to do and the first priority was adults, not children. So, as adults, we need to repackage our understanding. In the next crisis, we need to think first about children. What do they need? They need help to interpret reality, they need to be listened to. I think it depends also on our context and our cultures. But for me, I would say, give them space to
JN: Do we need to be skilled or trained to be able to listen and understand the hidden language of a child?
KO: I think more than being trained, we need to be aware that they need to be listened to. Whenever the pandemic was happening, I talked a lot with my husband because I felt so frustrated. He was listening to me. So I have to do the same with my children. As parents, we need to remember how important it is to be listened to and it doesn’t matter how old you are.
JN: Last year, my mother passed on. So her grandchildren saw her when she was sick and then the next day granny had passed on. Is it important to tell children about death? And how do we convey the
KO: Yes, it’s not easy and there’s no one specific answer but you have to know your children. You have to tell them the truth with hope. Death hurts; there is a separation and they should see us cry, because we have feelings too. We can tell them that even though we are crying and that we are sad, we are sure that there is hope and that we will see them again.
JN: How important is it to let children express themselves?
KO: I think in the church we have made a lot of mistakes with children. We don’t let them speak. We arrive and we give the lesson and we give them everything that they have to do and we don’t let them speak. So I would say that a good Bible class could be online or face-to-face, would be where we are all sitting in a round circle. We are reading the Bible, we stop, we ask questions, and we let the children speak. The most important question for the children is, what is this story telling you? Okay. We are going to be surprised by their answers. Sometimes they know God better than we do.
JN: How do we handle a stressed child?
KO: We need to remember how we were created. We have a brain with two hemispheres. One hemisphere is about emotions. The other hemisphere is for thinking. Half of our brain works with emotions. It’s the artistic part; the part that loves music. The other half is just the part that loves math or science facts but sometimes they are disconnected. In our culture sometimes, we only want to work with the rational part. So we don’t let them cry. We don’t let them laugh. If they’re feeling anxious, we need to let them express what they are feeling. The rational part is for scripture. We need to give them scripture to give them God’s promises. They can say yes, I’m feeling very anxious, I’m very, very sad, I’m going to cry, but God loves me. God doesn’t change.
- Jonah Nyoni is an author, speaker, and leadership trainer. He can be contacted on Twitter @jonahnyoni. Whatsapp: +263 772 581 918