To say that the last few days have been traumatic for South Africans would be an understatement. KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng have experienced riots, looting, destruction and violence on a monumental scale. So far scores of people have been injured, many have lost their lives, and even more have lost their livelihoods. This destruction and chaos come in the wake of the third wave of Covid-19 that has been ravaging our provinces and the level 4 lockdown that has put increased pressure on an already struggling economy. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the collective trauma we as a nation have experienced since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and continue to experience daily, will likely stay with us for years to come.
It is exactly because of these difficult times and their adverse effect on our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, that we need to be mindful of the effect that trauma has on all of us, and especially on our children. For children living in the areas directly affected by the rioting and looting, it is impossible to shield them from the violence and chaos that surrounds them. They are seeing adults commit violent and criminal acts, they are seeing the shopping centres and areas they once felt safe and comfortable in being destroyed, and they are witnessing violent clashes between community members and law enforcement as well as military personnel. Sitting in a middle-class suburb, safe and comfortable, I cannot even begin to imagine the fear these children must feel.
Children who stay in areas that have been unaffected by the riots and violence are not exempt from fear and trauma, however. Children pick up everything, whether we as adults realise it or not. They hear the news playing over the car radio. They hear the muffled conversations of adults. They feel the panic and fear in the air. They don’t understand what is happening, and they may not believe that the adults around them can keep them safe if the adults themselves seem to be scared and worried. And this too is trauma, the fear that bad things will happen to you and no one will be able to stop it.
We as a nation must prioritise the well being of our children during this time. Our children are our future, and for us to break the cycle of violence and destruction we are currently caught up in, we need our children to be healthy and whole physically, mentally and emotionally.
One of the most important things we can do for our children during this time is to make them feel safe and to give them hope. Because there is hope. Already community members have begun to band together to protect businesses and property. On social media, people have begun creating volunteer groups to assist in cleaning up and repairing the damage done by looters.
Fred Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
The best thing we can do for our children during these times is to help each other and to show them that there is good in this world, there are people who are safe and who will fight for the safety of others, there are people who will build up rather than breaking down. Children learn from what is modelled to them, so let us model hope and help and safety.
Our H.E.L.P – Four Stages for Supporting Traumatised Children Programme has been created to empower parents, teachers, social workers and caregivers to help children deal with trauma in a healthy way. If you or your organisation want to learn how to better support and care for traumatised children, contact HealingLeaves today and register for our online training.