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‘We can do better by our children,’ symposium on ch...

Maverick Citizen


‘We can do better by our children,’ symposium on child wellbeing told

Optimal health, nutrition and material wellbeing are critical in ensuring that children thrive as they grow up. (Photo:Gallo Images / Foto24 / Herman Verwey)

Parental depression, food insecurity, lack of play, quality of sleep and physical and mental stimulation all affect children’s wellbeing, say experts.

‘Frankly, we can do better by our children,” said Nadine Petersen, the vice-dean of teaching and learning at the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ’s) Faculty of Education.

She said, during the Fast-Tracking Child Wellbeing symposium hosted by UJ on Wednesday, that she was tired of the preventable incidents that led to children’s arrested wellbeing.

“How can our children survive if we do not do something at school which lifts them up, which makes them ready to learn, to grow strong, to stay healthy, to get help from specialists when they need it… when they are worried about what happens to teenagers in taverns, when they are worried about what happens to their little friends who disappear?” asked Professor Elbie Henning, a research chairperson at the National Research Foundation.

Presenting his research on the recommended guidelines for parents and Early Childhood Development centres, Gudani Mukoma, a doctoral fellow at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), emphasised that before thinking of interventions in primary school it was important to focus on the foundational phase of a child’s wellbeing, which was from birth to five years old.

He said activities that stimulated the brain and motor skills, physical exercise and sleep were very important and affected a child’s growth and development.

Mukoma’s research revealed that for optimum development:

  • Children under the age of one year need between 14 and 17 hours of daily singing, baby talk and toy stimulation and at least 30 minutes of “tummy time” preparing them to crawl.
  • Children aged one to two need 11-14 hours of daily sleep, with consistent sleep and wake-up times. They should not be strapped down (for example, in a stroller) for more than an hour at a time and need time dedicated to energetic play such as hide-and-seek, jumping, climbing jungle gyms and playtime with other toddlers to aid their physical and brain development.
  • Children aged three to five need at least three hours a day of physical activities like running, dancing and jumping; while not engaged in energetic activities they need stimulating activities like puzzles, painting or drawing and 10-13 hours of sleep, with regular sleep and wake-up times.
child wellbeing nutrition
Experts say that adequate nutrition is a key requirement to ensuring that children reach their full physical and mental potential. (Photo: Donna van der Watt)

The research also showed that storytime was key to stimulating children’s cognitive development and bonding with parents.

These guidelines are, however, not without their challenges, Mukoma told the symposium, as often parents, particularly from a lower-income background, often report not having the time or resources to be able to meet these needs.

Twenty-one percent of children are stunted globally, a postdoctoral fellow at the SAMRC, Lukhanyo Nyati, told the audience. He noted that 80% of these stunted children live in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

Nyati said South Africa, although considered an upper middle income country, was not doing well in the stunting battle, pointing out that there had been very little improvement from 1994, when stunting was at 31%, to 2017/2018, when it had only marginally decreased to 27%, which was still higher than the global average.

Nyati pointed to social determinants such as access to healthcare services, poor economic growth, high unemployment and a limitation in household income leading to food insecurity.

He said a study of 162 caregivers to 75 female and 62 male children in low-income areas around Johannesburg found that the children of caregivers who had matric and tertiary education tended to have a lower prevalence of stunting. He said there was a low stunting prevalence between the ages of five and eight and that undernutrition, which often led to stunting, peaked at the age of two. He noted that caregivers who experienced depression had a negative impact on children’s wellbeing and growth as they often were unable to provide the necessary “nurturing and care”.

Nyati’s research revealed that in low-income households where the level of education of the mother was higher, combined with a child support grant, food security was higher and children exhibited a higher attendance rate at school and were less likely to have children at a young age.

He suggested that South Africa needed to investigate whether there could be any mechanism that linked the child support grant to other skills development programmes and how to improve household income to improve child growth and development. DM/MC


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