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Ways to help your children develop self-esteem

Self esteem and confidence

Self-esteem and confidence are major traits in individuals that affect their success. While these are a lifelong process, the foundation of it needs to be established in early childhood. Building self-esteem will allow the child to deal with difficult situations that they will encounter during their lifetime. Since parents have the greatest influence on a child’s belief, it is important for them to let their child know where they belong, how well they are doing and contribute towards developing confidence and self-esteem.

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Parents and teachers are puzzle pieces in child development - Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Val de Vie and Franschhoek

Emotionally ready for pre-primary school – how parents can help

Supporting your child to become emotionally ready for pre-primary school 

Mixed emotions, difficult choices, coping at work, experiencing utmost joy and contentment. As adults we are well known with these emotions. But what about your child? Emotional development and growth are a crucial part of your child’s early years, and you can help develop these. While this sounds like a daunting task, it is actually quite easy to support your child to become emotionally ready for pre-primary school.

Emotional development starts at home, in your womb. It is important to note that attending pre-primary school isn’t enough to develop your child emotionally, because emotional development can be compared with a 2-piece puzzle. The one piece is called ‘parents’ and the other ‘teachers’.

Parents and teachers are puzzle pieces in child development - Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Val de Vie and Franschhoek

If one of these puzzle pieces is missing, you might be exposing your child to: 

  • a lack of everyday coping skills 
  • difficulties in making friends 
  • a lack of self-belief
  • a sense of “I don’t fit in”
  • difficulties to cope in grade 1 and onwards.

Remember it is your child, not the school’s child. Your child is a learner in the pre-primary school, but his development remains your responsibility, albeit supported by the school. 

Research indicates that the inability to be in touch with and to explain emotions, can be linked to inadequate attention to sensory development. Make use of every opportunity to develop your child’s senses, and vocabulary by having “conversations” with your child.

As a parent, you can develop an emotionally “in touch” child at home, every day, by simply doing the following: Focus on your child’s five senses.

How focusing on sensory development can support your child to become emotionally ready for pre-primary school.

When you go for a walk, or play a game ask

“What noises can you hear?” What do you see/smell that makes you happy/sad/excited? Pick your favourite shaped leaf, squeeze it between your fingers (touch), how does it smell? Which texture do you like most, slippery/rough leaf and bark of a tree. If you still have a baby – use your vocabulary and senses and talk to your child, for example: “This is a beautiful day – look at the clear, blue sky”. “Smell the fresh air/orange rose”. “Feel the grass under your feet. Does it tickle your toes?” Take a few stones home to paint and have fun!

Using textures and feeling to develop your child - emotionally ready for the pre-primary school 

Listen to music 

Play a happy / sad /exciting / slow, fast song & ask your child how he/she feels when listening to that song. Ask questions to find out how your child feels, and how he can express himself. “How do you walk / jump when you feel sad / tired / when it’s very warm?” 

Hand puppets are a must in your household 

Teach your child how to deal with sadness, anger, frustration eg. the angry rabbit has a red ball of fire in his tummy and he wants to yell at his mom, or hit his brother, but he rather chooses to go and drink water / wash his face instead of hurting somebody else. Teach your child healthy ways of dealing with frustration, like hitting his pillow very hard or tearing paper from a magazine, crumpling and throwing it as hard as he can. In the end he realises that he feels better as he got rid of the big, red ball of anger in his body. (The same applies to feelings of sadness). 

Teach your child how to deal with sadness, anger, frustration using hand puppets

Water and sand play will make your day 

There is an old (and wise) saying that goes: Do you want a half-developed child – then don’t play with your child. It is amazing how playing with the simplest items in and around your house can unlock your child’s potential. Here are a few examples of activities you can try: 

  • Play with water and sand
  • Bake mud cakes 
  • Pour bubbles / leaves in the water
  • Wash the sand toys
  • Create situations in and around the house where your child can learn to wait his turn. 

Water and sand play are crucial exercises in your child's development

Touching and feeling different things 

Tickle your child’s nose with a feather, touch/rub her hair or face & say “you are a very special girl”, “I love you so much”. Massage his shoulders and back. Let your child comb / brush your hair. Draw different shapes/numbers on his back and visa versa. 

Be an example 

As a parent, your own emotions, and outlook on life can influence your child. This starts when the child is still in the mother’s womb, a baby, or a toddler. Keep your own emotions in check, and act as an example in developing an emotionally healthy, happy child. 

When tempers or frustrations run high, try the following. Instead of shouting, crying, throwing things around, use positive behaviour and vocabulary, like “I’m just going to drink a glass of water” (go to the bathroom for example and wash our hands/drink water), make yourself a cup of tea (depending on the situation) and then go back. By giving yourself this mental break, you would be able to think realistically and logically again and research indicates that the outcome will be:

  • a happier child, who feels safe and secure
  • a child who’s more ready to face everyday life situations for example dealing better with conflict between friends, having less emotional outbursts and tantrums 
  • becoming a teenager with a positive self-image. 

The school as your partner 

Your partner in the emotional development journey of your child is the school. Remember to check in frequently with your child’s teacher. Listen to what the teacher says and don’t be afraid to ask and understand why your child should be able to master the specific learning activities on his school report. 

In summary the emotional development of your child, where he can believe in himself, be happy and productive, starts with an involved parent. If not, you choose to only have a partly developed child. 

**Note** This article was initially written on request by Midstream College Pre-Primary schools and Bondev (developers of Midstream Estate), as part of a series of articles on child development. This article has already been published in the Midstream Magazine – February 2022 edition, on page 72.

Please feel free to connect with me on my Facebook page, or on Twitter

Photo credits – thanks a lot:
Puzzle pieces photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash
Hand puppet photo by Volha Milovich on Unsplash
Child playing with leaves by Scott Webb on Unsplash
Water and sand play photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Health, books, writing are all part of the essential school readiness tips for parents

School readiness tips for parents

School readiness tips for parents

School readiness tips for parents

At this time of the year “school readiness” is one of the hot topics of discussion among mothers with young children. Moms are concerned with the question “How do I ensure that my child is ready for school”. Nowadays school readiness is known as “readiness to learn”.  I have previously written about this topic, but in my practice as an educational psychologist moms ask for practical tips on how you to get their children ready for school and ready to learn. In this article, I specifically explore school readiness tips for parents, giving parents useful tips to prepare their children for going to school.

School readiness tips for parents – Why is it important to determine whether your child is ready for school?

The demands placed on the grade 1 child are high. A child who enters the grade 1 classroom without the necessary skills and readiness to learn is likely to develop emotionally, behaviorally or academically obstacles and problems.

Knowledge of your child’s strengths and weaknesses when he enters grade 1 is important and beneficial for understanding his academic performance throughout his academic career. This knowledge may also be utilized to develop strategies to facilitate effective learning in your child.

Today we know more than ever before about how young children develop and about how to best support early learning.The first five years of life are critical to a child’s lifelong development. Young children’s earliest experience and environment set the stage for future development and success in school and life. Early experiences influence your child’s brain development, establishing the neural pathways in the brain, that provide the foundation for language, reasoning, problem solving, social skills, behaviour and emotional health. Therefore it is of utmost importance that you prepare and develop your children’s potential and ability to learn to the utmost in this phase.

School going age in South Africa

A child is obliged to go to school in the year that he turns 7, whether it is 1 January or 31 December, unless they obtain school exemption for the year.

School readiness tips for parents – FAQ’s about the school readiness assessment?

Below I will try to answer some frequently asked questions about school readiness assessments as administered by an educational psychologist.

What is a school readiness assessment?

A school readiness assessment is a formal assessment, done by a qualified person, (usually an educational psychologist), to determine if a child is ready to enter primary school.

How is a school readiness assessment done?

The school readiness assessment is done looking at the following areas: social, emotional, physical and intellectual capabilities. The assessment usually starts with an initial interview with the parents (plus minus 90 – 120 minutes).  Thereafter an assessment is done, during which time a series of tests are used, including formal IQ tests.

Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist will provide you with a written report as this is one of the essential school readiness tips for parents

How long will a school readiness assessment take?

The school readiness assessment will take approximately 5-6 hours. Some psychologists perform the assessment in three hours. Personally I prefer to do the assessment over two morning sessions, as young children find it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time. The other advantage is that I have enough time on the second day of the assessment to determine whether a child who couldn’t master or didn’t understand an activity the previous day, really hasn’t developed the skill yet or whether he was just tired or didn’t feel well the previous day. A further reason for using two morning sessions for the assessment is that I assess a child as a “whole” which contains a mental assessment (IQ Test), emotional assessment, social assessment, physical assessment (including gross- and fine motor development and perception).

The last reason for taking two mornings is because I had been a grade 1 and pre-primary teacher and school principal myself for 18 years. I know that the demands placed on the grade 1 child are high and by administering a proper school readiness assessment, I can provide parents with practical examples, with regards to their child’s gaps and needs as well as strengths to support him at home, before he starts with grade 1.

What kind of feedback can I expect from the educational psychologist after the school readiness assessment?

Parents will receive a written report, but also detailed verbal feedback on the various aspects of the school readiness assessment as well as practical examples of activities to support their child at home in mastering skills which still needs development. So lets explore the school readiness tips for parents in more detail.

School readiness tips for parents – What is school readiness?

School Readiness is determined at various levels, namely mental readiness, social readiness, emotional readiness, perceptual readiness, and physical readiness. It also implies that a child has reached a certain stage in his development where formal education will be advantageous to him. “Readiness is a stage where a child’s development is when they can learn easily, effectively and without emotional disturbance. It cannot be defined in a point of development, however, because growth is a steady continuous process, always ongoing. Rather it is a condition, or state indicating that the child is ready to learn.”

Parents, day-care providers, pediatricians and preschool programs play an enormous role in the preparation of a child for school. Research shows that learning begins long before a child enters nursery school. No child becomes ready on his own. It is a process. The child needs to be educated. Initially it is the parents responsibility to provide the necessarily stimuli. Infants and young children thrive when parents and families are able to surround them with love and support and opportunities to learn and explore their world.

School maturation on the other hand refers to a biological process in the development when certain aptitudes appear before they start school. This implies physical as well as mental maturity. The maturation process also includes physical maturity, as the child needs to be physically fit to enable them to deal with the demands of formal maturation.

The maturation process cannot be hastened but the appropriate facilitation, comprehension and support thereof can. Parents can improve the quality of the maturation. This can be achieved by stimulating the effective use of senses, language and coordinated muscle control. Usually this kind of maturity is reached by children at about the age of six. The maturation process can be delayed by the lack of sufficient stimulation or neurological dysfunction as a result of brain injury before, during or after birth.

School readiness tips for parents – The domains of school readiness

These domains of school readiness are separate and distinct, but interact with and reinforce each other. The need for children to develop across all five domains is supported by pre-primary school teachers.

  1. Physical and motor development and physical health
  2. Emotional development
  3. Social development
  4. Cognitive development
  5. Language development

Physical, motor development and health

Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Kids must play outside from an early age as this is one of the essential school readiness tips for parents

Gross motor development

Coordination should be well developed. The child should be able to perform a variety of gross motor acts including climbing, walking, running, skipping, catching a ball, swinging (also upside down when hanging on his legs), rolling, bollemakiesie, wawiele maak and standing on one leg.

Fine motor development

The child should be comfortable to be able to use a pair of scissors, pencils, crayons, paint brushes, tie and untie his buttons and shoe laces, play pick up sticks, thread beads, “sort out rice”, copy pictures which is build by burned out matches or toothpics and more.

Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Letting your kids draw from an early age is one of the essential school readiness tips for parents

Perceptual development

“Perception is any process by which children become aware of what is happening around them. Children gain information through their senses – what they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. … This is called perceptual-motor development”.


The basic self care skills to teach your child is dressing himself, tying shoelaces and buttoning up.  Support your child to develop good hygiene routines such as going to the toilet, wiping himself properly, flushing the toilet and wash his hands. Your child should be able to sit up straight on a chair with both legs in front of the chair. Good table manners and eating habits are non-negotiable. Teach him to chew with a closed mouth, not to talk with food in his mouth, clean his mouth and hands as well as to clean up the table afterwards.

Physical health

Your child should be physically healthy in order to attend and perform well within the school environment. The following should be carefully monitored and where applicable the necessary attention should be given by a qualified person.

  • Allergies
  • Attention deficit disorders with or without hyperactivity
  • Nutrition and growth deficiencies
  • Immunizations
  • Blood disorders
  • Visual and hearing problems
  • Dental problems

Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Health, books, writing are all part of the essential school readiness tips for parents

Social and emotional development

Young children’s social and emotional development is the foundation of their cognitive development. Children are more likely to do well in school when they have a positive sense of personal wellbeing. This personal wellbeing is developed through consistent, caring relationships in their early years. Emotional support and secure relationships build a child’s self-confidence and the ability to function as a member of a group. Research indicates that a children’s emotional and social skills are linked to their early academic skills and development. Children who are emotionally well adjusted have a significantly greater chance of early school success, where children who experience emotional difficulties can experience early school problems. The relationships which children build with peers and teachers are based on their ability to control and regulate their emotions. Children who have difficulties to pay attention, follow directions, get along with others, and control negative emotions of anger and distress perform less well in school.

Social maturity as a criterion for school readiness refers to a child’s ability to adapt to social situations whether in a group or individual relationships. A child who is socially immature, irrespective of whether he has the cognitive abilities to cope with formal education, will experience problems to adapt in school which in turn could hinder his scholastic performance.

School readiness tips for parents – Questions

The following are a few ways you can use to identify whether your child is socially ready for school:

  • He/she likes to play with a friend.
  • He/she doesn’t cry easily.
  • He/she is capable to deal with conflicting situations and to try to make a plan to solve it (without crying and running to you first).
  • He/she can easily integrate with a group.
  • He/she can easily carry on a conversation with a friend.
  • He/she is willing to share toys
  • He/she is willing to help a friend.
  • He/she is willing to take part in group activities.
  • He/she has the self confidence to give his opinion or take part in class discussions with friends.

Emotional maturity

Emotional maturity implies that a child has reasonable control over his emotions. Emotional maturity influences important aspects such as self-confidence, which is a pre -requisite for learning. When a child is assessed for school readiness it might be possible that he is physically and cognitively ready but socially and emotionally not. School readiness depends just as much on emotional maturity as on scholastic ability. Therefore it is one of the most important aspects of school readiness.

School readiness tips for parents – Emotional maturity

How do you know if your child is emotionally mature enough to go to school?

Here are some guidelines:

Independence: Can your child complete most tasks on his or her own, or is she constantly running to their teachers’ side for approval or assistance?

Confidence: Is your child confident enough to speak up in a busy classroom when he or she is uncomfortable or needs help? Your child also need to let the teacher know when he needs a bathroom break, is feeling ill, or need something.

Separation: Does your child separate easily from you when dropping her off in the morning or are the good byes long and teary? Crying in the first few weeks is normal, but should stop after a while.

Responsibility for his belongings: Does your child remember to put his lunch box back into her bag after break? Does he remember his jersey and shoes or is his teacher constantly running after him with his belongings?

Problem solving: Is your child able to solve the majority of basic little problems that pop up on a daily basis? For example, will she know to borrow a ruler from a friend if she doesn’t have one or try to resolve conflict with a friend with regards to join them in playing a game.

School readiness tips for parents – Cognitive development

Cognitive development

Cognitive development refers to:

  • thinking and problem solving,
  • knowledge about things,
  • and the way the world works.

Throughout a child’s day (by playing, taking part in activities like paintings, drawings, ball games, experiments, climbing trees or playing on the jungle gym, listening to stories and having discussions about the world around him), his cognitive skills develops and expands and he gains new knowledge. By creating the opportunity for your child to gain more knowledge of the world around him and the way things work, he learns to observe, recognise differences and similarities, ask questions, and solve problems. Cognitive development also create and expand mathematical knowledge, critical thinking, reasoning and problem solving in creative ways.


  • Your should be able to use drawings, play, and various objects to develop and express herself creatively.
  • He should be exposed in role playing, drama, puppet shows and storytelling.
  • She should be able to express her understanding of the world around her.

School readiness tips for parents – Language development

Language development

Language development includes listening and understanding as well as speaking. Therefore your child needs to have a proper vocabulary.

Language development is a key predictor of school readiness as well as success in your child’s school career. Early literacy skills which includes the development of an expanded vocabulary, the understanding of sounds and letter relationships, etc. at nursery school are good predictors of children’s reading abilities as well as their comprehension skills throughout their school careers. Language and literacy skills enable children to develop cognitive skills and knowledge and to interact well with peers and adults. You can never read enough stories to your child (a minimum of two to three books should be read every day).

Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Reading to your kids from an early age is one of the essential school readiness tips for parents

Indicators of proper language development:

  • The child should be conversant in his mother tongue.
  • The child should be able to both understand what other people say and express himself fluently and meaningfully.
  • She should be able to remember details from stories in a logical sequence.
  • Your child should have an expansive vocabulary and be able to describe the attributes (size, shape and colour) of objects.
  • She should be able to recognize letters (particularly those in her name as well as in friend or family member’s names).
  • He should understand the concepts of time for example a short or a long time, morning, afternoon and evening, the names of the days and on which days he doesn’t go to school.
  • Concepts like before and after, first, last, more, less, big, small, top, bottom, next to, underneath, above and between, should be mastered.
  • Your child need to know where his right and left hands are (even if he turns around).
  • Your child should be able to identify the differences and similarities between objects.

School readiness tips for parents – Writing

Writing (and reading) is a movement that entails rhythm.  Yes, the same rhythm that you need when you dance.  Before you even think to start teaching your child to write the alphabet and words on paper, remember the golden rule for writing is to develop a good rhythm.

Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Kids must develop fine motor skills as this is one of the essential school readiness tips for parents

How to develop your child’s rhythm:

  • Clap your hands / click your fingers / tap your feet on the rhythm of the music while you moving in a circle with your child.
  • As your child’s rhythm develops, you can combine more rhythmical movements, like clap your hands, click your fingers and clap hands on your legs (all on the rhythm of the music).
  • Gallop like a horse on the rhythm of music, play skipping games, like hopscotch and jumping on one leg.
  • Use musical instruments to further develop your child’s rhythm.  If you don’t have any instruments, make your own (e.g. for the drum use an empty tin and two sticks; put some small stones in a plastic bottle to have a rattle, use kitchen utensils and just enjoy the orchestra).
  • The next step will be to make rhythmical patterns in the sand / mud, while for example singing a song.
  • Let your child also draw rhythmical patterns in the air (with both his hands and feet).
  • Try to dribble a ball rhythmically (start with a big size ball first and later use a tennis ball).
  • Let your child copy a rhythm which you clapped with your hands or ticked on a table with a pencil.
  • Finger exercises: Pretend to play a piano or a flute.
  • Thumb touching: Each finger of every hand should touch the thumb (forward and backwards). Try to move faster every day.
  • Tear a paper.
  • Put pegs on a washing line.

School readiness tips for parents: The importance of mid-line crossing and writing

Mid-line crossing (or middle line crossing) is one of the most important skills that a child has to master in order to learn to read and to write.

What does mid-line crossing mean?

Our bodies have a left side and a right side.  If you could draw a line from head to toes (or from top to bottom), that is your mid-line or your center line.  Most children who experience problems with writing and reading, can’t cross their mid-line.  To cross your mid-line, means that you should be able to move with your left side of your body into the area of the right side and visa versa.

Do these exercises to the rhythm of music as a dance: Cross-crawl, knee-foot-heel, backward-heel touch and lazy 8 (8 lying on it’s side).

School readiness tips for parents – Mathematics

Have you ever thought of this: To be able to do maths, your child has to know:

  • his body parts
  • the difference between his left and right sides (he should also know it when he turns into a different direction)
  • the basic concepts: before / after; in front of / at the back; on top of / below; next to; between; more / less; left / right; under; underneath; bigger / smaller; etc.

How to teach these basic concepts to your child:

Always start with three-dimensional games, which means your child’s body is involved:

  • Play with your child and give him instructions like “Stand next to Sam”.  “Sit on the picnic table”.  “Stand between the swing and the slide.  “Kick the biggest ball”.   “Stand on one leg at the left side of the (play) house.”

After your child has mastered the three dimensional games, move to more complex activities, which implies that your child has to complete a task, but that only a part of his body will be needed, for example:

  • “Put the doll underneath the couch”.  “Put the truck left of the smallest car”.  “Bring me the ball that is bigger than the yellow ball, but that is not the biggest ball”.  “Lift up your right leg”.  “Touch your left elbow with your right knee.”  “Put the yellow bean bag on your left foot and try to walk around”.  “Put the bean bag on your back / elbow, etcetera.  Can you still move around?” (give your child tasks to perform with a bean bag while some music is playing – children enjoy this activity very much).

Instructions should get more difficult as your child progresses.

Now your child will be ready to move to two-dimensional activities which involves him sitting on a chair and / or carpet.

Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Develop problem solving skills by playing board games as this is one of the essential school readiness tips for parents

Two dimensional activities imply the use of card games, board games and peg boards, etcetera:

  • Let’s start with peg boards: “Put a green peg left of the orange peg”.  “Place a purple peg in the right corner of the peg board”.  “Can you build a square with the pegs?”  “Put two black beads inside the square (it is assumed that your child knows the basic shapes, it is circle, square, triangle, rectangle and oval, otherwise you could start to teach him the shapes).
  • Examples of board and card games: Match the pictures / colours / numbers (eg that looks identically the same); match the pictures that go together eg a mother and a baby, a bee and a hive.  Monopoly.
  • Snakes and ladders (ask questions like, which number is before / after number four; which number is between / next to / above / underneath number ten, etc).
  • Make your own colored arrow card.  Arrows show in different directions.  Ask your child to touch the arrow/s that show left / up / right / down directions.

One dimensional activities will be your final destination (it means pencil / pen and paper activities and BE WARE that parents as well as some pre-primary schools tend to skip three- and two dimensional activities and / or start too early with pen / pencil activities.

What do I mean by too early?

Remember the sequence: three-, two-, and one dimensional.  If your child hasn’t accomplished the three- and two-dimensional activities, it means that he won’t be ready to move to the one-dimensional activities.  In the process he might get confused and loose confidence in his first, very important, math skills.

A nice change to the normal: Take turns with your child to give the instructions.

Pen / pencil and paper activities mean: “Draw a circle at the right side of the tree”.  “Mark the third duck in the row”.  Tick the last triangle in the row”.  “Circle the object between the girl and the car”.

Have fun!  Ready, steady, take the strain out of Maths. You can do it!

School readiness tips for parents – Self-concept

The first and most important ingredient in your school readiness recipe, is to support your child to develop a healthy and good self-concept.  Without it he will never be able to be a happy, well balanced child who will belief in himself and have confidence.

What does self-concept imply?

It is the way in which a child sees (perceives) himself with regards to his abilities and traits.

Practical ways of developing a positive self-concept:

  • Practice what you preach. Be a good role model for your child.
  • Enjoy life. Smile and laugh a lot.  If you experience every day life as a big obstacle, don’t expect that your child to experience life differently.
  • Have fun together as a family. We don’t have any opportunity to do a rehearsal in life, this is real life we are in and we are busy living it. Teach your child to live life to the fullest in spite of obstacles and teach him that there will always be challenges in life – so therefore rather have a broken halleluja than no halleluja at all.
  • As family you should at least have one meal a day together. It should preferably be a meal where you have time to sit together and not a meal during the rushing hours of the morning when everybody has to get ready for work and school. The TV should be turned off.  Listen to your child.  Ask him about his day:  What was exciting and/challenging and how did he handle it. Don’t criticize your child for all the wrong things he did, but focus on the positive aspects that he did well. Ask him whether he will handle such a situation differently in future and let him share it with you.
  • Talk about light-hearted things as well, for example what you, as family, are planning to do together the weekend, the news of the day, new movies and outside activities that you want to do together.
  • Praise your child when he did something right and when he did his best, in spite of focusing on the mistakes he made.
  • Support your child to express himself.  It is important to help him to identify his emotions and feelings.
  • As parents your child should know that you are experiencing different feelings and emotions as well and that it is FINE to have emotions and feelings.
  • Tell your child when you, for example had a bad day, and that you feel down, but also tell him what you are going to do to solve the problem (maybe it will just be to go for a quick walk with your family after dinner, or to play your favourite happy song and let the other family members also play theirs. Sing and dance together).  By doing this you will learn more about one another and you will share a lot of practical life skills of ways to deal with stress, anger and disappointments.

  • Plan activities in such a way that your child will be able to experience success.
  • Criticism should always be positive and encouraging. Don’t “preach too much”, but listen more and try to put yourself in your child’s shoes. The result of “too” much preaching is a child who feels not listened to and understand by his parents.
  • Allow your child to do things in his own way and to take responsibility for his choices. This will be the only way that he will learn out of his mistakes.  Then you will have the opportunity to encourage him for trying something on his own and to teach him the important life skill that “Success is not final, failure is not fatal.  It is the courage to continue that counts” (Winston Churchill).
  • Give your child at least three compliments a day by focusing on things and characteristics about him that’s unique and special.
  • Communicate unconditional acceptance and love to your child through your words, but also with your gestures and body language.
  • Encourage your child to express his ideas that differ from yours.
  • Create opportunities where he can express himself creatively, for example to choose a theme for his birthday party, to have the choice of a family activity (preferably outside the house and not in front of the TV or computer).

School readiness tips for parents – family activities

ACTIVITIES TO DO TOGETHER AS A FAMILY (You should pick at least three a week)

NOTE: It doesn’t involve passively sitting and not communicating with one another.

  • Go for a walk.
  • Cycling.
  • Reading (take turns to read; little ones who can’t read yet, pick a story and tell it).
  • Listen to your favourite happy song.
  • Have a picnic.
  • Lay on the grass and look at the stars/shapes of the clouds.
  • Dance (while “following” the leader – take turns to be the leader).
  • Take photo’s of your family often. Print some of it out, at least every second month, and start with a family clipboard at home. The photo board will add to your child’s a sense of belonging, security and happiness.
  • Sit together at the fire site and talk/tell stories.
  • Play card games/board games.
  • Prepare food together (divide the tasks).

CHALLENGE:  Practice your creativity as a family and try to add six more similar activities to the list!

School readiness tips for parents – general questions / summary

Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Let your kids draw and paint frequently is one of the essential school readiness tips for parents

As an educational psychologist, I’m confronted with questions like “How do I know my child is ready for school?”, “How do I support my child to ensure her school readiness?”, “Where do I start do get my child ready for school?”.

My advice and experience as educational psychologist is:

The process for preparing your child for school readiness is easier than you might think. Research has shown that it is not so much about the amount of formal learning, spending huge amounts of money, working through lots of workbooks and buying expensive learning material for your child.  It’s all about play (as discussed above). It is “play” with a different angle where you as parent create opportunities and activities where your child can think, explore, experiment, learn to solve problems, is supported to build up a proper vocabulary and gain knowledge of the world around him.

Researchers describe play as a child’s work or job.  Educational psychologists have called play “a window into the child’s world” and “an activity through which children gain control and come to understand life”.  According to Hymes (1968) play is:

“… thinking time for young children.  It is language time. Problemsolving time. It is memory time, planning time, investigating time. It is organization-of-ideas time when the young child uses his mind and body and his social skills and all his powers in response to the stimuli he has met.”

School readiness implies developing the child as a “whole”.  “Whole child” means: emotionally, physically, socially, mentally and spiritually.  To have a well balanced, happy child with self confidence, all of these aspects have to be equally developed in your child.

Please feel free to connect with me on my Facebook page, or on Twitter

School readiness tips for parents references:

Resources: (De Witt & Booysen1994; Gordon & Browne 2004)

Resources: (De Witt & Booysen 1994; Gordon & Browne 2004; Papalia, Olds & Feldman 2004)

Resources Midline crossing exercises

Dr Melody de Jager

Neurolink South Africa

Spoken sign language as a criterion for school readiness among deaf pre-schoolers.

N.L. de Klerk, 2003, Magister in Language Practice, University of the Free State.

Article: Young children’s emotional development and school readiness. C Cybele Raver

Brainline 2003, J Du Plessis.

Getting ready: National school readiness indicators report. February 2005, Rhodes Island Kids Count.

Peceptual development. M.C. Grove and H.M.A. M. Hauptfleisch.

Credits for images used in this school readiness tips for parents article

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash (apple ABC)

Photo by CDC on Unsplash (Kids in class)

Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash (Girl writing at desk)

Photo by Anna Earl on Unsplash (Kids jumping)

Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash (Mom and kids reading)

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash (Arts and crafts, drawing)

Photo by Jan Kopřiva on Unsplash (Kid on swing)

Photo by Dave Photoz on Unsplash (Board games)

Photo by Jeffrey Betts on Unsplash (Report)

Sensory awareness activities for children as discussed by Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist

Sensory awareness activities for children

Sensory awareness activities for children

Our senses help us to make contact with our environment. In the article below I will discuss the importance of sensory awareness for emotional development, and also give some examples of sensory awareness activities for children.

All individuals (adults and children) make contact with the environment by making use of their senses, which are

  • seeing
  • hearing
  • smelling
  • tasting
  • touching.

If one is not in touch with ones senses, then it will be very difficult to be in touch with ones emotions.

  • A child communicates his awareness of what is happening in his world through his play.  Play helps promote mental growth as well as emotional needs.
  • Children often lose their sensory awareness and sensitivity in respect of their bodies as a result of traumatic events in their life.  They desensitize themselves in order to protect themselves. 
  • By focusing on children’s sensory and bodily contact-making, they are made aware of the emotions they experience in a specific moment.
  • Through sensory awareness a person is able to live more fully in the world, the connection between mind and body is discovered.

Sensory awareness activities for children

Discuss and experience practically (breath through the nose and mouth) how the nose is used for smelling.

  • Let your child discover the various smells in the air.  Do the activity inside and outside.
  • Describe the smells (what they smell like and what do they remind your child of).
  • Talk about your child’s favourite and non-favourite smells.

Sensory awareness activities for children as discussed by Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist
Talk to your child about different tastes.

  • Let your child stick out his tongue and look at it in the mirror.  Ask him to feel the textures of food under his tongue, on his lips, teeth and in his mouth.  Allow him to describe the tastes and feelings.
  • Give your child different foods to taste that includes sweet-, bitter-, sour- and salty tastes.  Have a small plastic mirror available so that your child can see his facial expressions, as reaction, when he tastes the different foods.
  • Talk about the tastes your child likes and dislikes.

Touch activities
Feeling different objects like, sand, sandpaper, wood, shells, seeds – talk about how it feels, what it reminds your child of.  He can also say, “I don’t like this because it reminds me about …. or I like this, because it reminds me of…, etc.

  • Use finger paint to make pictures (put different textures in the paint like washing powder, sand, sta-soft, etc).
  • Play in the sand and water (use interesting objects like plastic measuring cups, bottles, cookie cutters, etc).
  • Use play dough and encourage your child to roll, cut and crumble the dough.
  • Walk barefoot on various surfaces like sand, stones, water, cushions, sandpaper etc.
  • Both you as parent/caretaker and your child touch the child’s face, head, arms, legs or body parts, and allow him to describe the feeling (use cotton wool, soft brushes, sponges, etc).
  •  Important: All activities must be non-threatening in nature.
  • Allow your child to sit in a spot and list everything he sees.  (You can do the writing if your child is still too small).
  • Look at pictures (for example in a book) and try to remember them in detail.

Sensory awareness activities for children as discussed by Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist

Sensory awareness activities for children continues

Make sunglasses from toilet rolls and use cellophane for lenses through which your child can look at various objects.

  • “Mirror mirror” games – look into mirror for 30 seconds and let your child explains what he saw.  This will helps your child to strengthen a sense of himself.
  • Allow your child to sit in a spot and list everything he sees. (If a child is still to small to write you can do the writing).
  • Look at pictures in a book, and try to remember them in detail.

Sensory awareness activities for children as discussed by Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist
Listening to music helps to bring your child into contact with his feelings.  The words of songs (age appropriate) can help him to identify emotions that he may not be able to express otherwise.

  • Bang household items against each other, for example spoons, chopsticks, etc.  (This is used to promote sensitivity towards sounds).
  • Allow your child to paint while listening to music.
  • Use musical instruments to introduce rhythm, and to make gentle, loud, scary or happy music.  Talk about the happy, sad or scary noises.
  • Demonstrate body movements which can be used to express different emotions and talk about them.  (Stamping feet to express anger, tiptoe to walk quietly, quick steps if you are in a hurry, etc).

Sensory awareness activities for children as discussed by Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist
Walking sensory experience 
Take your child for walks to experience and involve him in sensory exploration.

  • Encourage your child to explore within safe and reasonable limits, for example: What is under that nearby rock? How do the leaves smell? How does the bark from different trees feel?
  • Stop for a moment and listen to different sounds. Can your child hear the trees “moving” in the wind, the birds that fly overhead, the sounds of the city in the distance?
  • Avoid distracting your child with questions while he is involved in sensory exploration of seeing, smelling, hearing and touching. If he starts to talk (about other non-related things, gently turns his attention back to what he is seeing, tasting, smelling, hearing, or feeling.


( Resource: Dr S Krog Play Therapy Techniques)

Please feel free to connect with me on my Facebook page, or on Twitter

High quality educational development toys for kids

Photo credits:
Photo by Zahra Amiri on Unsplash (Child crying)
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash (Happy)
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash (Sand play)
Photo by Анна Хазова on Unsplash (Baby and flowers)
Photo by Liuda Brogiene on Unsplash (Mirror)
Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria

Going back to school tips

In a previous post about going back to school after COVID-19, I have discussed the pro’s and con’s of sending back your children after the lock down period.

In this post, I would like to present some “going back to school tips“, but using pictures. This can be used by parents and teachers to show their children how to tackle going back to school after COVID-19.

Wash your hands

Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria

Wear a mask

Avoid touching your face

Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria

Pack your bag

Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria

Keep a 2m distance

Do the fruit foot shake or elbow touch greeting

COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate – it’s real and not a joke. Wear your mask when chatting to friends. It’s cool!

Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria

No hugs and sharing

Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria

This isn’t cool

Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria

Spread kindness

Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria

Remember, this isn’t forever

Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria

Better days are coming

You Rock!

Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria

Please feel free to connect with me on my Facebook page, or on Twitter

Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Val de Vie and Pearl Valley

Back to school after COVID-19

Back to school after COVID-19

Children will be going back to school after COVID-19. Many parents are struggling with the following question, “Am I doing the right thing to send my child back to school now?”

Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria

Parents are wrestling with the decision to send their children back to school. This question triggers many emotions within parents. What complicates this question is that each family has a unique situation and circumstances.

Some facts to consider

Dr. Fiona Kritzinger, a paediatric pulmonologist (child lung specialist) from Cape Town says the following about going back to school:

  • Children don’t play such a significant role in passing on the COVID-19 virus to others.
  • It seems that less children are infected by COVID-19 than originally assumed.

Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria

  • Children’s symptoms are very mild and in most cases unnoticed.
  • Italy’s COVID-19 death rate is 80 000 of which no one was a child.
  • Studies indicate that 80% of children who will get sick will have mild symptoms which won’t be more severe compared with other corona viruses like flu and influenza of past years.
  • Less than 5% of children will really get sick and need oxygen.
  • In South Africa between 500 – 600 children die of influenza every year. The risk for a child to be infected with COVID-19 is thus in context with previous year’s influenza rates.
  • What differs with COVID-19 is the number of people who might be infected as well as the heavy load that might be put on our health care systems.
  • Parents also fear the risk of other vulnerable family members. High risk ages are below one year and above 65 years of age.
  • Children are usually more affected by viral infections like the “normal” virus and upper airway infections. Therefore kids have circling anti-bodies, which help to prevent COVID-19.
  • The COVID-19 virus which binds to people’s cells, doesn’t bind well to children’s cells.

Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria

Simple acts can make the most difference

Dr. Kritzinger, further highlights the effectiveness of:

  • Washing hands,
  • Not touching the face,
  • Wearing of masks (although pre-schoolers tend to constantly touch their masks as it seems to be uncomfortable, shift around, hurt their ears, and more).

These three basic personal hygiene steps would go a long way in protecting our children (and ourselves) when they go back to school.

Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria

Dr. Kritzinger indicated that should all precautions be in place from both the home and the school’s side, children can go back to school.

In another article about going back to school after COVID-19, written by two epidemiologists*, of which one specialises in infectious diseases mentions the following facts:

  • Children are often assumed to be important conduits of infectious disease. This is true for influenza (or the common cold), but there is little evidence that children are important drivers of the COVID-19 spread.
  • Children can acquire the disease, but the symptoms are often mild or completely unnoticed.
  • Initial data from studies in China and Iceland show that children are not good transmitters of the virus.

Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria

  • In detailed contact tracing from China, Korea and other countries, epidemiologists have encountered few instances in which children formed part of a transmission chain.
  • In places where schools remained open, such as Iceland, there is no evidence they were important places of transmission. One detailed investigation of an infected nine-year-old boy in France did not detect a single secondary case after he had contact with 112 peers and adults at three different schools during his symptomatic period.
  • The article clarifies that children are defined as elementary-school age and younger.
  • It is thought that teens and adolescents have similar transmission roles as adults.


Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria

In a recent article published in Loving and Living** the author mentions that going back to school might be less uncomfortable for your child as it is may be for you. “Remember, your child trusts school as a safe space. They don’t have your anxieties about infections and risks – so don’t tell them anything that may lead to their worrying.”

Back to school after COVID-19, some practical tips

This article further highlights three practical things you as parent can do at home, to prepare your child for going back to school:

  • Talk to them about the changes that they can expect, for instance that the classroom might look different than before. Let them practice wearing a mask, and wash hands.
  • Your child might experience a certain amount of separation anxiety after spending so much time at home. Remind them about what the enjoyed at school, and the benefits of going to school, seeing friends again etc.
  • Most importantly, make your child feel safe. Remind them that some countries have already passed the most dangerous point in the pandemic, and that we as a country have a plan to fight the virus as well.
  • Remind the older kids that they would be playing an important role to help the smaller kids adapt to school again.

Back to school after COVID-19 Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria


You can download a free eBook about going back to school picture tips by clicking here.

For more information about educational psychology and child development, please connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.



RSG Radiostasie and KykNET (May 2020)

* Parents are in two minds: Should I send my child back to school or not? National Post, Jay S. Kaufman and Joanna Merckx, April 22, 2020

** 3 things to do before your kids return to school, Published: May 29, Author Lisa Witepski, Loving and Living

Living and dying, bucket list, Dr. Marisa van Niekerk, Educational Psychologist Midstream Centurion Pretoria

Living and dying – my bucket list

Living and dying – my bucket list

Here is a poem about living and dying, that really is quite inspirational.


You know the lucky thing about my hip replacement?

she asked, not waiting for the answer.

It made me think about advance directives,

my living will, how I’d like to die.


Yeah, he said, her colleague

who chatted amiably with death

each day, like two old men

playing checkers in the park.

I know what you mean.


This is how it is

with the nurses, doctors, therapists

who walk down the halls of dying

as through the home of a relative,

pausing to leaf through the Geographic,

or straighten a family photograph on the wall.


They have earned their ease

the hard way,

learned to reach through the bramble

to find the fruit, add weight

to the rusty pail.


They have not so much grown inured

to pain as they have learned to savor it,

taste the sweetness of the grapefruit’s bite,

feel the glow of a day’s hard toil.


In the end, we need them

as we need seasoned travelers

met in an unfamiliar land.

They greet us on the steep trail,

in the twisting streets, point the way

to a good taverna, trace the path home.

Most of all, they help us

parse the dark syllables in our hearts,

bare them,


and seek cleansing

in the gathering storm.

– Robert A. Neimeyer, (Earl Rogers 2007: xix)


As an educational psychologist who specializes in trauma therapy from the ages of two to 92+, I am confronted with death on a daily basis. In my previous article about death and dying, I’ve discussed death as a taboo subject for most of us. People feel uncomfortable when “death” comes to the surface and they will rather change the subject. Life and death are two sides of one coin, and what we don’t always realize is that the one can’t go without the other one. Life and death, living and dying are intertwined.

Living and dying, bucket list, Dr. Marisa van Niekerk, Educational Psychologist Midstream Centurion Pretoria

How do I want to be remembered after my death

Take five minutes and write down a few words about how you want your family, loved ones and friends to remember you. It can be words like fun, patience, always looking at the bright side of life, reading them a story or taking turns to read a book (even when they are in high school) and more. Now write down at least five things that you have achieved in life that you are proud of. (This may be a challenge for many people, as it is much easier to focus on things that we haven’t achieved). Achievements will differ from person to person. For one it might be to be a patient person, for somebody else it might be a diploma or a degree, for another person it might be to encourage others, to be an entrepreneur, to be able to live in the moment, to have a loving family, etcetera.

Living and dying, bucket list, Dr. Marisa van Niekerk, Educational Psychologist Midstream Centurion Pretoria

Living and dying: My bucket list

Now it’s time to write down five things that you still would like to achieve – a bucket list. This bucket list will add to the things about how your family and loved ones will remember you. You are still alive and you still have a chance. Do you only want people to remember you for having the cleanest house, being a very strict parent (without having time to sit down and listen to your kids), having many degrees (but spent most time in your office, because you are too busy to have fun with your family) or will your choice be to just set aside your responsibilities and chores for a while and play in the sand with your kids, having a lot of laughter and jumping on the trampoline, having a tea break in your beautiful garden, playing in the mud, reading story books, walking around the block, having a picnic in your garden, listening to your teenager’s music without making negative remarks and share your music with them, go cycling and your list can go on and on.

Living and dying, creating memories, Dr. Marisa van Niekerk, Educational Psychologist Midstream Centurion Pretoria


I still have a chance for a bucket list

It is in your hands to be and still become the person you want to be remembered after your death. Live your life as if there will be no tomorrow, no next chance to have more patience, to say sorry, to put down your responsibilities for a while to have fun. By making the choice to live life, to teach yourself and your children how to live life, how to see the blue sky, the flowers, how to be on the lookout for and to appreciate the small blessings of every day (birds in the garden, the value of a smile, friendliness with the people around us, patience, being a fun person to live with, being blessed with good health, having warm water, enough food, a beautiful house, a caring family and more) you will also learn how to die. You can only face death if you have learned to live life to its fullest. Life is too short to allow daily chores, work, responsibilities, to keep you away from living (as you are dying if you aren’t living). Teach yourself and your children how to life life to the fullest, in spite of COVID-19, in spite of many uncertainties, in spite of not having enough, in spite of not having a perfect life. Take what you have and make your life a living life and not a dying life.

Living and dying, bucket list, Dr. Marisa van Niekerk, Educational Psychologist Midstream Centurion Pretoria


Do you like a challenge? This one is not for the faint of heart, but maybe also for them

Write a memorial letter about yourself, which contains how you want to be remembered. What inspiring music you want to be played on your funeral, maybe you have a special saying that people will always remember. What photo’s would you like to be shown of you on a slide show? Certainly not photo’s of cleaning the house with a grumpy face, of sitting behind your desk, of preparing food with a silence around you that could be cut with a knife. Yes, of course we all have our chores (read why children need to have chores on my Facebook page) and responsibilities – it’s part of life. But do you have photos for your slide show where you are having fun, laugh a lot, play a lot lot, dance like no one is watching! If you don’t have these kind of photo’s, then today is the time to start collecting them, to print it out, to put it on your refrigerator or a special memory clip board, where you and your family can add new photo’s, at least once a month. Life and death, two inseparable sides of the same coin. Only by living life to the fullest, you will be able to learn about peaceful dying. Take up the challenge and make your bucket list today.

Living and dying, creating memories, Dr. Marisa van Niekerk, Educational Psychologist Midstream Centurion Pretoria

Photo credits:
Thanks to the following photographers for their amazing images used in this post!
List: Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
Mom and kid: Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash
Dad and kids at beach: Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash
Photo memories: Photo by sarandy westfall on Unsplash
Campfire: Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash
Miles of memories: Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash
death and dying therapy dr. marisa van niekerk educational psychologist midstream centurion pretoria

Death and dying therapy

Death and dying therapy

Death and dying therapy is something that people need, but most tend to avoid.

Death and life – two parts of the same coin. The one can’t go with the other one

(Have another look at the picture above. What word do you see? Now rotate the picture 180 degrees. Now what word do you see?)

 “The world breaks everyone and afterward, some grow strong at the broken places”.

As an educational psychologist, who specializes in trauma, including death and dying therapy and who completed both my masters and doctorate degrees in trauma (with both teenagers and adults), I’m confronted on a daily basis with “broken people” and / or hurt people. Examples of what I’m dealing with are divorce, abuse, suicide, death, housebreaking, hijacks, bullying, retrenchments and natural disasters. But one of these traumas remains a taboo subject, an absolutely no, to talk about…DEATH.

death and dying therapy dr. marisa van niekerk educational psychologist midstream centurion pretoria
Picture above: No! No! Don’t talk about death


Through the ages and generations death has been a taboo and a ‘no no’ subject and until today most people refuse to think and talk about death. Thinking and talking, as well as reading about death, threaten most people and make them feel uncomfortable. Thus death = silent ignorance (to most people).

The reality is that death and life are two parts of the same “coin”. The one part of this “coin” which is “life” can’t be understand, without understanding something about the second part which is “death”. Our parents teach us how to live (if they themselves knew how, and if we are lucky), but teaching us to die doesn’t even exist in their vocabulary. We don’t want to think and talk about death, because we don’t want to die, at least not for now. The fact is that we all will die and it can happen with you or one of your family members or friends today. Every day, since we can remember, we see, hear and read of people who died, but we think “thank goodness it’s not us”. Then life goes on, until the day arrives when someone close to you die or when you are confronted with death by means of an unexpected diagnosis…and suddenly your life is shattered and falls apart.

Death and dying therapy: A different view

In his book ‘The Alchemist’, Paulo Coelho describes death as a beautiful woman. Coelho says that this beautiful woman (death) is always by his side in life. She had been there since his birth. A friend of Coelho asked him whether the beautiful woman says something. Coelho’s answer to his friend was: The beautiful woman is saying:

“I’m going to kiss you,” and I say to her, “not now, please.” But she says, “OK, not now – but pay attention and try to get the best of every moment because I am going to take you”. And I say, “OK, thank you for giving me the most important advice in life – to live your moment fully.”

death and dying therapy dr. marisa van niekerk educational psychologist midstream centurion pretoria

To be able to really learn to live and to understand life, it’s impossible not to learn and understand more about death. Look at the picture of death again. Life and death are intertwined, they can’t be separated and the one can’t exist without the other. People ask: “Where do I start with death?”

The first thing is to face death. Yes, to face death. Facing death means to be able to stand still and say: I am confronted with death and I need to face it. Research indicated that “facing” your fear, panic and insecurities, is the first step to go on and pursue hope. But what is facing death exactly? Facing death is about getting up in the morning, although you do not feel like doing it, and facing the day, facing your fear, facing your challenges and most of all, facing yourself.

Facing yourself and facing the fear of death is about going forward although with trembling legs and maybe sweating hands, and a shattered heart that pounds in your body, even you do not feel like it. Facing death is about going on, like the metaphor of a river which describes trauma:

“The river flows relentlessly to the sea. When it reaches a point where it is blocked by rocks and debris it struggles to find ways to continue its path. Would the alternative be to flow backwards? That is what a person in trauma craves, to go back in time. But life doesn’t provide a reverse gear and the struggle must go forward, like the river, with occasional pauses to tread water and check where we are heading”….water adapts itself to the configuration of the land.

death and dying therapy dr. marisa van niekerk educational psychologist midstream centurion pretoria


Facing death and facing yourself takes a tremendous amount of energy. Don’t face this on your own. There is help. Often during trauma and death, negative experiences of the past, which wasn’t properly faced and addressed, tend to come to the surface again. Feelings of guilt, sleeplessness, anxiety, feelings of depression and more can bother you and make your shattered life even more confusing and unbearable. The intense and overwhelming feelings and emotions which is caused by death infiltrates every cell in your body.

Your brain’s main aim is to protect you. In experiencing trauma your logical and rational thinking process will be put on pause for a while, because your brain will automatically put you in fight, freeze or flight “mode”. That is one of the reasons why you can’t think clearly. Through psychotherapy and counselling you will be supported to face your unresolved issues of the past during your mourning process of death and make it “dealt with” issues.  By sitting with an experienced trauma psychologist, will help you to start to gather the shattered pieces of your life. It will be an intense journey, but by doing this for yourself, will support you to be better equipped for the journey that still lies ahead – as you are alive which means there is still a road to travel.

Should you just need to talk to someone who can listen and walk the journey with you, you can contact me here, or visit my Facebook or Twitter pages.

For more information about death and trauma therapy click here.

Photo credits:

Photo by Zach Lezniewicz on Unsplash

Photo by Mattia Ascenzo on Unsplash

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash (Stop)

Photo by Suzy Turbenson on Unsplash (Cemetery)


Paulo Coelho – The Alchamist

Diagram: The grief Centre of Texas. Corr, CA, Nabe, Corr,DM. 2006. Death and dying, life and living. 5thedition. United States of America:Thompson Wadsworth.

Van Niekerk, AMS. 2011. Opvoedkundig-Sielkundige riglyne vir die hantering van die verlies- en treurproses (Unpublished M.Ed Dissertation).

Social media protection for your child Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Pretoria Midstream

Social media protection for your child

Social media protection for your child

It is something we all know we must do. But unfortunately, it is something most of us don’t spend any time doing. That is, thinking and implementing social media protection for your child.

Most people who are on top of social media don’t have a clue about digital literacy. Are you one of them?

Do you check your child’s phone? If you don’t, maybe you should rethink it very soon as well as seriously. As an educational psychologist in private practice with experience with children, teenagers and families over the past 30 years, I’ve met about ten families where parents are digitally informed. When I ask parents whether they check their child’s phone, their standard answer is “My child will never allow that!” Most parents whom I see in consultation are totally knocked off their feet and their world falls apart when they tell me about their reliable, trustworthy, loyal, and well mannered child whom they trusted with their hearts, who has sent naked photo’s of him / herself to men and boys, or is involved with cyber bullying (whether a victim or the bully self), had sex with more than one partner, use inappropriate apps, are part of groups where their loving child used the most disgusted language and visits pornography websites.

Social media protection for your child Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Pretoria Midstream

One problem parents experience is that photo’s and video clips which were sent when using certain apps, disappear immediately after the receiver watched it. What teenagers and young adults aren’t aware of is that the owner of the app could store these images as if it is their own. Therefore the pictures are still available, irrespective whether the user erased it. Some people also take instant screen shots when receiving it – especially naked and obscure photo’s as they are out to manipulate friends with it in order to get what they want.

Another important aspect of which most parents aren’t aware of is how a teenager’s brain develops and works. The brain develops from the back to the front, and the outside layer which is the cortex, which comprises more than 40% of the brain, develops last. This frontal cortex is where insight, reasoning, planning, impulsivity, decision making, and the regulation of emotions take place and it is developing until a person is 20 – 30 years old (according to Frances Jensen, neuro scientist, in The teenage brain). Teenager’s brains are powerful and therefore there’s an urge to find and explore new, sensational learning areas, but a teenager’s brain hasn’t been fully developed yet. Therefore even the most responsible teenager can make a bad judgement call. Peer pressure, hormones, puberty and the quick development and powerful stage in which a teenager’s brain is, as well as normal human curiousness are good examples of why you can never give your child a phone and not check it at least every second week.

What should I as a parent of a teenager do?

Research indicates that parents are illiterate about digital devices. Common sense Media is an excellent, reliable tool where age appropriate apps on movies, games as well as books are shown. The starting point is however to re-evaluate your own values and norms on social media. Teenagers and younger children, even preschoolers, often tell me that their parents are on their phones and computers for most of the evening and weekends – even when the family is sitting together at the dining table, go for a walk, drink some tea / coffee together or watch a television program.

Social media protection for your child Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Pretoria Midstream

Social media protection for your child: The facts

A few facts indicated by research on being hooked to social media are the following:

Before you buy your child a phone (or if you think that it’s too late – you can start again) your child should know the following:

  • Having a phone is a privilege and not a personal right.
  • Technology is a gift and that it should be wisely used, but you as parent should teach and educate your child on that.
  • You as parent pay for the phone as well as the bill / airtime and therefore you have the right to know what’s going on on your child’s phone.
  • You are the parent and you are responsible for your child’s upbringing which implies discipline with regards to using his / her phone, what applications he / she is allowed to use, what parental control apps are being activated and more.
  • Both adults and children can get addicted to a phone easily, the same as to alcohol or drugs.
  • There will be strict rules which will include all the family members with regards to when and for how long phones are allowed to be used.
  • You will have access by means of his / her codes to all the info on the phone.
  • It’s non-negotiable that you will be friends with your child on Facebook, Instagram and other social media and applications he / she is using.
  • Your child can be found guilty of a criminal offence if he / she sends a naked or obscure photo to any person, before the age of 18 years.

Social media protection for your child Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Pretoria Midstream

  • Prospective schools, colleges, universities, as well as managers where your child might apply for a job in future will consider your child with his social media in mind. Before most companies appoint a person in a job, they do visit a person’s social media.
  • Once a social media post (messages, photos, videos,) is sent out, you can’t take it back. It’s like putting toothpaste on your toothbrush. If the toothpaste is out of the tube, you can’t put it back. Teenagers think they can erase it, but a typical social media app rule is that user info remains their (the app’s) property, even if it is removed. All info is stored in their cloud and you can’t remove it once it’s out there.
  • Social media is one platform where “phishing” and other obscure people operate very easily, as they hide behind their false identity and smooth talking. They do research on what girls’ and boys’ of different ages’ emotional needs are, what they are going through with regards to peer pressure, having insecurities and the experiencing of feelings of they don’t belong and are the odd one out. These scammers are very professional in their game of making friends and giving you a lot of thumbs ups on socoal media. They also can be found on gaming websites and they are fun to have as friends. Their aim is to get power over you, to make you feel that they are your best friends, who totally understand you.
  • Teenagers thrive on likes by peers and friends. There’s peer pressure and competition on how many friends you have and how many likes you get for a post. Too many times teenagers invite and accept friends because they think they know the person or heard his name before. This is however no connection if you don’t really know the person well.
  • On Emma’s Sadleir’s, a leading lawyer in South Africa on social media’s website, your child should “check” whether the following six P’s can be ticked off before he /she posts anything. It means that your child will feel totally comfortable when his post will be seen by: the POLICE, a PEDOPHILE, his / her PARENTS, a PHISHER, the PRINCIPAL or a PROSPECTIVE PERSON for whom he might work in future.

Social media protection for your child Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Pretoria Midstream

Social media protection for your child: Know this!

Before you buy your child a phone (or if you think that it’s too late, you can start again) YOU should know the following:

  • Research indicates that the average age in South Africa of being exposed to pornography is 9 years of age.
  • Pornography is available for free to any person, no matter what age, 24 hours a day.
  • Pornography is found even among the best educated children with academic distinctions, who are leaders in schools and who have involved parents. The reason for this that a teenager’s frontal part of his brain, which is the cortex, isn’t fully developed yet. His reasoning, rational, realistic choices, as well as being impulsive or not, i.e. his whole “control system” therefore is still developing, and could do so until the age between 20 – 30 years.
  • Every child, yours’ as well, has a natural and normal curiousness to discover and explore things. It is therefore your responsibility to take all the precautions that you can to protect your child. It implies that you should also do your homework on digital literacy.

Social media protection for your child: IMPORTANT READING MATERIAL FOR PARENTS

If there’s only one website you need to read regarding social media’s pros and cons, it’s the lawyer Emma Sadleir’s. She is one of the leading social media experts in South Africa. Click here:

On Emma’s website you will find:

  • A link to obtain information about social media apps, like Snapchat, Messenger, Instagram, Tinder and more. Read through it and see what is good as well as dangerous with regards to it.
  • A link to the Common Sense Media website which is an excellent tool to recommend age appropriate shows, movies, games, apps and books for different age groups.
  • Excellent, easy to read, articles on social media for all age groups.
  • A description of filtering software, like Our Pact, K9, Net Nanny and their pro’s and con’s so that you can decide which one will be fit for you. There is also info about ways in which your child may try to side-step the software and how you will know when it happens.

You can order Emma’s book “Selfies, Sexts and Smartphones: A teenager’s online survival guide” here.

Social media protection for your child Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Pretoria Midstream

Social media protection for your child: Please read and share this

Dear Parent: Prevention is better than cure. With Emma Sadleir’s website as well as this call from me as an educational psychologist, you don’t have any excuse any more of how to become informed and educated on the appropriate social media for your child. Remember, social media protection for your child starts with you.

Talking about social media, please feel free to connect with me via social media, as I would like to hear your thoughts on this topic. Connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

References used in this article:

The Digital Law Company – Emma Sadleir –

TED talk – Why we should rethink our relationship with the smartphone – Lior Frenkel – May 2014

TED talk – What you need to know about internet addiction – Dr. Kimberley Young

Sarie tydskrif – In die kop van jou tiener – Maart 2020

Photo credits:
Photo by Merakist on Unsplash (Social Media Featured image)
Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash (Social Media icons)
Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash (Boy with phone)
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash (Snapchat logo)
Photo by Stem List on Unsplash (Playing games)
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash (Teenager with phone)
Top traumatic and the most stressful life events, before the Corona virus Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Pretoria death divorce

Top traumatic and the most stressful life events, before the Corona virus

Top traumatic and the most stressful life events, before the Corona virus or Covid-19

Covid-19 certainly is one of the most stressful life events ever.  The world has stopped and people right over the world are in lockdown. The corona virus or Covid-19 indeed is certainly one of the top traumatic and the most stressful life events.

What were known as the top traumatic and the most stressful life events until recently when Covid-19 hit us?

  • Death of a loved one.
  • Separation or divorce.
  • Getting married.
  • Major illness or injury.
  • Starting a new job.
  • Job loss.
  • Workplace stressors.
  • Financial problems.
  • Move to a new house.


What is the definition of trauma?

Trauma is defined as stressful events, over which a person has no control. This stressful events can cause highlevels of anxiety which threatens or harm a person’s emotional, physical, and / or social well-being and interferes with his / her normal daily functioning in such a way that reevaluationof his / her actions and thoughts are needed. These strong emotional reactions have the potential to interfere with a person’s ability to function in the traumatic situation or later (Van Niekerk 2014).

Suddenly all of us as human beings have to face the reality of Covid-19. So many people wonder what’s wrong with them and wonder whether they are loosing themselves and whether the lockdown might be the reason why they suddenly experience negative incidents from the past to bother them now. Trauma research indicates that during times of trauma it is most possible that negative incidents of the past comes to the surface and bother you again. These negative past incidents are however “normal” to experience in an “abnormal situation”, like COVID-19. These incidents are most of the time things that a person hasn’t dealt with properly in the past. This is one of the most important things to take good care of your own as well as your families’ emotional well-being.

Trauma crying divorce death Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist


This sudden anger, sadness, confusion and guilt that suddenly came into your life, can be addressed through therapy. Therefore do what you can do during the lockdown time, but if these emotions and feelings with regards to incidents that happened in your past, keep on bothering you and interfere with your everyday life, it might be time to talk to a professional person who specializes in trauma.

The importance of working through traumatic incidents from the past, as well as the trauma of Covid-19 can’t be highlighted enough as you don’t want and need to carry ‘unfinished business’ for the rest of your life. Therefore “face” your fear, sadness, anger, etcetera and make your own as well as your loved ones’ ‘unfinished’ issues of the past, ‘finished’ learning experiences for the future.

I am an educational psychologist and trauma specialist in private practice in Pretoria, Midstream, Centurion, and Midrand areas. I have completed my master’s and doctoral degrees in trauma with teenagers and adults. I had been a teacher (both pre-primary and primary) for 18 years and later on a school principal who completed my honors degree in early childhood development. My specialization area of working with trauma starts from the age of two years up to 92+ years of age. I have more than 26 years of experience in working with children, parents and other adults.

Read more on trauma counselling on my blog. You can also connect with me on my Facebook page to read more on other educational psychology topics.

Reference:  Van Niekerk, M. 2014. Unpublished doctoral thesis: ‘The psycho-educational use of mental toughness in dealing with trauma.’


Photo credits:
Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash
Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash
Photo by Darya Tryfanava on Unsplash
Dealing with the covid-19 change Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Centurion Pretoria

Dealing with the Covid-19 change – corona virus

Dealing with the Covid-19 change – corona virus change

Dealing with the Covid-19 change has severely impacted and turned our lives upside down. Being upside down means that a lot of change has happened and are happening in your lives. Change usually bring with and forth a lot of uncertainties and insecurities in our worlds.

Dealing with the covid-19 change Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Educational Psychologist Midstream Centurion Pretoria
Change is constant – prepare for it!



We want to know what is “ok” and “normal” and it causes anxiety within us if we hear and see on social media and the television daily that there is no “normal” anymore. If you want any practical guidelines on how to set a new normal in this abnormal time of Covid-19, read my post here.

Dealing with the Covid-19 change however does not only mean negativity. Read more about change and what it implies in this post on “who moved my cheese” here.

For more information about Covid-19, and many other educational psychology topics, please visit my Facebook page. Or, if you are looking for some easy-and-fun arts and crafts activities for your children during the lockdown period, you can visit this post here.


Photo credits
Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash
Photo by Bluehouse Skis on Unsplash
Parents and teachers are puzzle pieces in child development - Dr. Marisa van Niekerk Val de Vie and Franschhoek

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