19 November 2021

We no longer live in a world where children are only seen and not heard. As we slowly approach a new year, we must take time to reflect on what can be done better to help uplift our children and the households they live in. Moreover, we must consider what can be done to support the family as a whole. As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and other factors, it seems like parents’ frustration has been baked in an oven at 260 °C and left to cool in a space with frantic children who miss fresh air and playtime. In many households, this has not made for a healthy meal. The question arises, how can we improve the recipe for children’s happiness and well-being? How can we help foster their social development?

Now, there is not just one answer, one model that resolves all questions. There are different concerns in different countries and societies; what can work for one may not work for all. A standard, must-add ingredient would be consultation. Consultations should be seen as the salt in our recipe, as far too many policies and programmes are created with the wrong flavouring and ultimately serve but a few.

In speaking with several children, I have found that they are less concerned about their own well-being and more about how their parents have changed during the pandemic. Many of the children talked about their parents drinking more than usual, never having time to play and often lost in a daze, crying, getting upset over the smallest inconvenience and oversleeping. There is no doubt that many children miss the fun of trading their lunches and eating in the classroom, running around during recess, and all the beautiful experiences that come with going to school and getting back to a “normal” routine. But even more, children miss their parents being happy and spending quality time with them. Telecommuting has transformed homes into dull buildings with painted walls and frustrated parents and guardians, who now have to not only help children with their homework but also teach lessons to supplement remote learning. In addition, many parents have lost their jobs and/or loved ones, and have additional burdens related to the pandemic weighing on their minds. These factors have strained the parent-child relationship, and in many instances, have caused division within families.

This brings me to my second ingredient, investing in parent-child programmes. Concerned organizations often create silo programmes that consider children and what they need individually. Progress has been made in creating parenting manuals, but there need to be more parent-child-centred programmes that can help build back relationships that have been lost. Even before the pandemic, there were many factors that contributed to opening divides between parents and children, but the situation is even worse now, with family members spending excessive time in close proximity within the home.

Given all the additional challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, we should recognize and focus on the need to strengthen and mend family relationships. We need to develop programmes aimed at helping children and their parents better understand each other and build healthy, fruitful relationships.

We often fixate on programmes that help young people cope with life’s difficulties, but children may need outside assistance in addressing problems in their households and family relationships. Let this idea marinate with you: the home is the first place in which a child is educated and socialized, a place in which their mental health is supported, or interrupted. Ideally, when a child goes out into the world, their parents have already given them examples of how to love, deal with conflict and communicate. With this in mind, it should be a priority of the international community to promote healthy family relationships and environments, because the benefits of such relationships trickle down to support a child’s mental health, education and social development.

Let our steps moving forward be about supporting family units. Let there be consultations with parents and children to learn what tools they need to mend and strengthen relationships. Let us create honest, warm conversations where we can get to the bottom of issues and fix strained or broken family relationships. We need stronger homes; our children demand it!