Occupational therapy week – caring for children during a global pandemic
The Occupational Therapy team at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (RCWMCH) is helping to build resilience during uncertain times by empowering the parents and caregivers of their young patients.
Occupational Therapy week (14-18 September) highlights the role that this discipline plays in the treatment and recovery journey of many medical conditions, including neurological conditions and severe trauma such as burns, vehicle accidents and gunshot injuries.
The theme for OT week this year is Reimagine Doing which correlates with the need for each one of us to rethink the way we used to engage in our daily activities and doing the things we enjoy to do, especially during the COVID pandemic.
This pandemic has challenged our daily lives and allowed for the opportunity for the development of great courage, learning and collaboration.
Occupational therapists (OTs) promote meaningful activities to improve a child's performance in their daily occupations such as dressing, self-care and school participation. They are able to identify and address underlying difficulties that may affect a child to “do” these activities. They act as the gateway for caregivers to be actively involved in giving access to their children to these activities of meaning, in essence the “doing.”
The primary role of the caregiver in the development of a child is to promote an environment where children can grow up and develop their full potential, having fun and being safe and healthy while having a space where children are listened to, they can express their thoughts and feelings, and are free to ask any question and are answered honestly.
“It’s a child’s job to play. Children learn through play and it also contributes to their physical, intellectual and emotional development. It teaches them resilience and gives them confidence,” says Mereille Pursad, Head of Occupational Therapy at the RCWMCH.
They recently developed the 4 thoughts for change concept which allowed for the reassurance and enlightenment of caregivers facing the towering challenge of caring for children during a global pandemic.
Thought 1: Quality Time: When caregivers engage in play with their children, it provides the child with security, allows for connection and builds a bridge for enduring relationships. The pandemic has also allowed for the time for caregiver and child bonding. Play has become explorative and constructive as children now have to use their imagination to play with the objects they have available at home. Real life skills can be incorporated into the development of different skills. Fine motor skills can be learned and honed through learning to tie their own masks.
Thought 2: Keep it positive: Children may express their stress this by means of defiant behaviour such as tantrums, irritability and withdrawals or clinging to caregivers. By listening to your child, making use of positive words when telling your child what to do and praising a child for what they do well we can create a positive environment for understanding and adaptation.
Thought 3: Structure it: Routines vital in the establishment a sense of predictability, stability and security. The more a child can anticipate what is ahead, the better they are prepared to face daily challenges and expectations. OTs have now gained the opportunity to educate parents on how vital routines through the use of gaining independence in our daily activities.
Thought 4: Keep Calm and manage your own stress: “We strive to look at each of our patients and their caregivers holistically and strive towards maximising their quality of life. We acknowledge that it is a stressful time, however, you cannot pour from an empty cup,” says Dani Ferraris, Occupational Therapist at RCWMCH. Breathing exercises, hobbies, meditation/prayer or physical exercise have all been proven to reduce stress. One activity that is often overlooked but has become a pinnacle of importance during this pandemic is open and honest communication. It is also important that there is a strong support system in place that will give you guidance and strength.
Let us not forget to appreciate all that we did in our daily lives and embrace the new. It is up to us all to build a better future for our youth.