Schools in Uganda faced early closures for the end of the 2022 academic calendar as the government moved to contain an Ebola outbreak which has so far killed 56 people, including eight children.
Although vilified by experts for early closures as the learners have already fallen far behind in learning following COVID-19 disruptions, the learners are expected to spend two months at home.
The school calendar originally had December 9 to 12 as the dates for the end of academic year for preschools, primary and secondary learners.
However, many parents and guardians in the increasingly demanding economic world face a dilemma balancing work together with the protection and the safety of children whenever they go on such long holidays.
There are a whole lot of tips to getting the best from a child; building their strengths, nurture and help them to be independent and responsible citizens this long holiday.
Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), Grace Nampija, an officer in charge of the Child and Family Protection Unit at Hoima Central Police Station, says besides the exposure to wrong elements, children themselves can be involved in criminal activities even in their innocence.
Nampija cited defilement, rape, criminal trespass, malicious damage, and even prostitution among those aged 16 and above as some of the crimes children can be exposed to without proper parenting.
She advises parents to look after their children well and provide for their needs like food, shelter, clothing and special needs for the girl child like the pads, noting: “these girls can go to someone because she wants to buy a good dress, and be like their peers.”
Godfrey Sserwanja, a retired Hoima District Education Officer (DEO), told The Albertine Journal on November 23 that parents should plan well to cover both academic and social aspects of the child. He says instead it (holiday break) should be the time to enable children to learn more.
He says it should be a mix of activities that will enhance learning and growth of the child.
The Director of Studies at Nyairongo Seed Secondary School in Kyangwali Sub-county, Kikuube district, Stella H. Muhumuza, advises parents to use this long holidays to create friendship with their children which would in-turn allow for easy disclosure of their inside characters- they did not know.
She says in case their characters are bad this would help parents to find a way of reforming them if need be.
Muhumuza said a parent should know the best friends of their children. Girls, she adds, need attention but allow them to play and mix with boys.
According to her, this helps a parent to read their emotions towards them. “If you don’t then they will go look for them.”
Hoima City Principle Education Officer, Johnson Kusiima Baingana, encourages children to not stay in cinema halls, and parents to engage them not to go into hazardous work, noting that child labour, despite being an easy and quick way to make money, has led to many school dropouts.
“Children should know that at the end of the year, we expect them to come back to school as they were. Let them understand that, there are still many Christmases to come in the future, and so there is no need to rush,” he says.
‘Keep your child with you’
Baingana advises parents against sending their children to live with relatives as that amounts to negating responsibility. “Keep your children no matter how poor you are,” he advises.
Parenting experts say finding time to spend with your children during the holiday is one of the best gifts you can give them, ensuring that they turn out to be happy and socially well-adjusted children.
They also said that outside the home, there are also many activities during the holiday break to engage your children, like the camps, which could be resident or daily camps.
These camps create opportunities for children to build resilience and a perfect opportunity to optimise children’s psychosocial development, they get the opportunity to boost their coping strategies with the simple and sometimes complex activities done at camps, working in groups with new peers and taking controllable amount of risks without a parent’s following up is a good way to spend the holiday.
“Other activities could include learning a new skill like riding a bike, football, swimming, gardening, computer and tailoring.
This provides openings for children to develop areas of interest.
Internet sources say your children may not be able to discover and develop inherent skills if they are not exposed to various activities; the long holiday period provides an opportunity for this.
Parents should take the decision of how to engage their children with their age and interest in mind.
She added that bearing in mind that school will be resuming on February 6, 2023, parents should be careful to mix and match all the activities and be sure to include academic work.
The holiday is a good opportunity for improving or reinforcing academic skills of the previous term and also preparing them for the new session.
If the academics and social skills are not carefully blended, some children find it difficult settling down back to school after a very long holiday.
Pastor Jackson Mugisa of Kingdom of Grace Ministries Uganda advised parents to pray for their children and also move together for church prayer because a family that prays together stays together.
Wamala advised that however troublesome children are sometimes, parents should not give up on their responsibility.
Police tip parents
According to the police press release on “parenting tips for parents during holidays”, parents are advised to engage children on sexuality education and that the information to be shared had to be age appropriate.
Police also encouraged parents to ensure that children get a balanced diet in order to have a break from the school menu as this helps in both physical and cognitive development of the child. Police also advised parents to dress their children appropriately.
Nampija advised parents to sit and resolve all the disputes arising from domestic violence insisting that it is one of the areas which have forced children to go astray on most occasions.
The police Annual Crime Report 2020, children related offences were 9,225 and 12,643 victims were reported.
Hoima emerged among the districts with the highest number of child neglect cases totaling to 136 after Kagadi, Jinja and Kabaroole.
The report also showed that 4.7% (9,225) of the cases related to child related offences in 2020 were directly committed by juveniles (children below 18 years) – although this is a decrease compared to the 10,596cases reported in 2019 with 12.9%.
Hoima had the second highest (115) cases related with child abuse and torture after Katwe Division, Busia and Tororo in the third and fourth respectively.
The report indicated that a total of 43,606 incidents related to child and family protection were handled in the year 2020.