How I'm Teaching My Kids Not To Fear Everything During A Pandemic

I put on the gloves, picked up the ball and gave it a good scrub. The kids — my 8 year-old son and 10-year-old daughter, told me that the man was just being nice and were clearly displeased with my behavior. I then reminded them of what’s going on and why what I was doing was necessary. (I am well aware that it will not be possible to keep my children at home forever, so sometimes I go over the top in an attempt to model the behaviors they now have to adopt to keep themselves and others safe.)

My 10-year-old asked how long we are going to live like this. I shrugged and said I don’t know as I left the ball to dry. Despite her slight frown, she got another one and we continued playing.

My children are deeply loving and social. My daughter’s unhappiness reminded me how much they are struggling with the current situation.

As much as I want to ensure that my children protect themselves and others, this forced me to reflect quite deeply on how I can do so in a way that does not inadvertently teach them to treat people as a threat. And in the face of an invisible virus, it is very easy to see people as the problem and retreat into personal cocoons.

This is especially tempting in South Africa, one of the most unequal countries in the world. I am a Black South African. Our household is fortunate to have the means to stay connected to our loved ones, to work and shop from home. That has made lockdown much more comfortable for us than for the majority of the country.

But for most Black South Africans, the current crisis has amplified already existing inequalities, leading to increased hunger, accelerated income losses and dangerous working conditions. There’s an urge to slip into self-preservation mode and ignore other people’s suffering. But, now more than ever, we should feel compelled to connect with the many struggles happening all around us, and collectively build a just, equitable and loving society.

Thankfully, my children appreciate the importance of relationships, which are really the foundation of our family. They feel safe, cared for and loved because of the many people in our community that have been involved in raising them, shaping their values and sense of self in the world.

Despite being isolated, we haven’t been alone. We have woken up to find oranges, Easter eggs, papaya and biscuits delivered to our gate from friends who live nearby. And from our wider community of friends, the children regularly receive loving messages and calls.

Our avocado tree produces more than we can eat, and because I can no longer share the bounty at my office, the kids decided to start packing up the fruit to leave outside for people passing by to take. Because they both have underlying health conditions that have required past hospitalizations — severe chronic rhinitis, eczema and allergies — I kept them home before the lockdown even started. So I suspect it is their way of reaching out to others despite not venturing beyond the yard for almost three months now. It has been fulfilling to see how much joy they get from this.

I don’t want my children to only remember to wear masks, wash their hands and keep their distance from people. I want them to understand that this is a time when people need to show up for one another. So in the same way I talk about how physical connection is a threat, I need to be as deliberate about elevating stories of how, beyond our small part of the world, people are helping each other out.

I have told them about the Community Action Networks in Cape Town, which have brought unlikely groups of people together across class lines through WhatsApp groups, which convey local needs and stop the spread of misinformation. This is particularly critical as the government’s already inadequate relief measures continue to fail to reach those who need them most. We’ve discussed the women of “Londani Lushaka,” an organization based in Alexandra, a township in South Africa, who with the help of volunteers and donated food are feeding up to 600 children on a daily basis.

And they know that in various cities around the world, thousands have risked infection to take to the streets to protest the state violence inflicted on black people not only in the United States but in their own respective countries.

What I want my children to take away from this moment is that it’s possible to forge new bonds in the middle of a global pandemic. Yes, sometimes we need to be careful about retrieving a ball. But connections to other people remain crucial — if not more important.

MindShift