Coronavirus disease is a novel disease code-named COVID-19. Almost two million people in hundreds of countries around the world have, in varying degrees, been infected with this virus, forcing the World Health organization (WHO) to declare it a pandemic.
On February 27, 2020, Nigeria recorded her first case with an Italian national who came into the country. Since then, situation in the country has not remained the same; for both children and adults. The number of cases is daily rising (despite few being discharged from isolation centres) and there is no date in view of when the tide will be stemmed and normalcy return to our social life.
With schools now closed, social gatherings cancelled and social distancing rules fully in force, there probably could be no harder times for children who are now confined to the small space within the four walls of their homes. They are definitely missing out on some of the biggest moments of their adventurous social lives. Some of their mutually-enjoyed experiences like playing games with friends, chatting and engaging in various school co-curricular activities are now in temporary deactivation mode, with no clear date of reactivation – nothing can be more agonizing especially for those of them that are very outgoing and lovable.
CREATING A PURPOSEFUL ROUTINE
Children are naturally restless. A healthy child cannot be expected to sit idly by, or quietly, like a sick person. In the face of the current reality, children should not be left to fritter away their precious time in front of TV, hopping around the house or simply hanging out with friends on social media.
In a recent interview with the UNICEF, Dr. Lisa Damour, a clinical psychologist, noted that psychologists have long recognized that when a man finds himself in an intensely difficult condition, it is a wise decision to classify the situation into two categories: things he can do something about and things he cannot change. With schools across the country already on lockdown, it is quite obvious parents and children have found themselves in a situation over which they have no control. The good news, however, is that they certainly can make the best out of it. Parents should make their ever anxious and energetic children, who are now feeling disappointed with the new social order, have a good blend of intellectually nourishing learning experiences and stress-relieving fun sessions while staying at home. An imbalance in the use of their time makes a poorly raised child and a challenge to his teachers when they finally return to the school.
This is where the idea of routine and discipline becomes very useful. Routine is good but, discipline is the key without which no door of success can be opened. Parents have to design a workable timetable for their children and ensure they stick to this schedule against all temptations. The schedule should also include simple indoor exercises to keep them physically fit. Physical fitness has been proven to be a good and reliable path to mental alertness. Apart from the fact that this helps them learn more and better, it also increases their level of discipline.
In an apparent reference to the loftiness of the virtue of discipline, Allah Himself calls to witness those who approach assignments with vigour and discipline as He declares in the following verse, “…they administer affairs in an excellent manner. (Q79:6). In his seminal lecture on the right moral trainings for children, the second successor to the Promised Messiah, Hadhrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Deen Mahmoud Ahmad (ra), explained some twenty-six (26) points on child training, four (4) of which are outlined below:
- A child should be fed at fixed hours. This will foster self-control, frugality, cooperation, punctuality and resistance to temptations. There is no doubt that lack of self-control is at the root of many evils including stealing and avarice.
- Food should be served according to a prescribed measure so as to teach contentment and discourage gluttony.
- A child should not be over-indulged. An over-indulged child naturally expects same from others from the larger society and this leads to a number of moral evils.
- Children should also be given common ownership of some property and instructed to jointly use it. When common things like toys and plates are separated for children at home, they are more likely to grow with the mentality of individualism and would care less about communal property. (Way of the Seekers, pp. 50-57)
So, while they remain at home, their time should be spent learning about (and practising) their faith, doing homework, watching educational videos and reading short but interesting, educative novels in order to cultivate or strengthen their reading culture. They should as well be engaged in appropriate chores in order to instil in them the spirit of dignity of labour, division of labour and cooperation so as to strike a balance in their daily activities. If this becomes regular, they gradually get used to it and would resume school to be better children academically and morally.
PARENTS AS ROLE MODELS
And those who say, ‘Our Lord, grant us of our wives and children the delight of our eyes, and make us a model for the righteous. (25:75)
Social modelling is a very powerful method of education. It derives from the social learning theory developed by Albert Bandura. With the theory, Bandura attempted an explanation of how children learn in social environments by observing and then imitating the behaviour of others, especially older ones. Beyond just reinforcement, Bandura noted that the presence and actions of significant others also exert some influence on the learning of children. Children who see positive consequences from an observed behaviour are more likely to imitate and repeat such behaviour themselves. On the other hand, when negative consequences are the result, they are less likely to imitate that behaviour. Sometimes, parents unconsciously do things in front of their children that they would not want their children to do. A breakdown of the observational learning strategies of children as contained in the social learning theory is presented as follows:
Inhibition: unlearning what one has learnt to do because a model has stopped doing it or has been punished for doing it or does something different from what he is expected to do. If parents wishes to change their children for the better, they themselves have to demonstrate the good character they want to see in their children. This is leadership by example. So, a better way of disapproving of a certain behaviour of a child is to exhibit just its opposite. Example is better than precept. Similarly, before a reproachable character is imitated by the young ones, older children who fall short of expectations should be appropriately reprimanded.
Disinhibition: learning to act in a way that is usually disapproved of most people because a model has done the same way without being punished for it. Adult members of the family must be punished for the same misdemeanour for which they would punish any child. This is one of the sacrifices families have to make to get a holistic result in children upbringing. If any adult would not be punished for a certain misdemeanour on whatever ground, it is better to appeal to such an adult not to do such in the presence of the children. In essence, this principle shows that, if an adult goes unpunished, a child would be ‘motivated’ to do the same thing and can only see his being punished as wickedness of the adult folks.
Facilitation: learning to do something that was not hitherto done not because of social disapproval but because of insufficient motivation. Parents should watch out for such behaviour which they did not have motivation to do but can now do because of the presence of motivation. So, when adults practice a certain skill, children too tend to look on and imitate this as time goes on.
True Observational Learning: Learning a new behaviour pattern by observing and imitating a model. From time to time, it is the responsibility of parents to introduce their kids to the world by demonstrating certain news skills and character they want their children to take on.
Children are like honey whose taste and hue are determined by the dominant plants from which it is produced. They grow up the same way they are raised; if you do not raise them with love and compassion, they find it difficult to exude same as adults.
As already noted in the relevant verse of Qur’ān above, it is explained that a truly righteous man is not satisfied with only becoming righteous himself, but aims at being a model and pattern for other righteous men to copy. Parents should therefore model positive behaviours for their children to learn better. Children see their parents as the first and best role models and whatever they see in them is what they will believe as the best for any human being. Parents who are fond of shouting at, cursing or hitting each other when angry are ignorantly teaching their children to do likewise when angry with their peers. It is psychologically troubling for children to watch their parents behave in a certain way, such as swearing when frustrated, and then to be punished for raining torrents of curses when they are angered by their peers or siblings.
As the Holy Qur’ān says, the soul is naturally given to evil. (Q 12:54). So, while it is easier to mimic bad behaviour, good behaviour has to be nurtured. Parents must, therefore, demonstrate the highest level of responsibility and exemplary character. They should be mindful of their utterances and avoid all instances, under whatever impulse, that could prove them a bad example for the children, especially in these days that their kids spend a whole day observing them. It is disingenuous for parents to think that children will hear and listen even when they themselves act to the contrary.