Laydai: “the lessons that make our lives work out”

Laydai has learned about respectful upbringing and about how to respond, in the best way possible, to the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and education of children.

Kenia Méndez Mederos
Laydai: “las enseñanzas que nos resuelven la vida”
Cortesía de la familia
10 October 2021

Laydai, a computer engineer and professor at the Havana University of Technology “José Antonio Echeverría” (CUJAE), has been a lot more than that during these months of pandemic: a mother, caregiver, teacher, and organizer of all sorts of games. Her apartment has had multiple functions as well: it is now a home, a park, a schoolyard, a school, a workplace, etc.

She and her husband Fernando care for their three children: 6-year-old Fernando is the son of both, 11-year-old Ian Carlos is Laydai’s son and 12-year-old María Fernanda is Fernando’s daughter. All five of them together have dealt with a possible positive diagnosis for COVID-19 and the isolation at the home of María Fernanda, with a nervous tic of the little one and with the new educational dynamics imposed by the pandemic.

Along the way, they have learned a number of strategies to overcome the challenges, with the help of other parents and caregivers, and with the guidance of specialists from the Respectful Upbringing project. It’s an experience organized by the Cuban Society of Psychology and the Faculty of Psychology of the University of Havana, carried out with the support of the UNICEF Cuba Office.

The objective of the project is to promote participatory, respectful and violence-free education for children and adolescents. To that end, it offers accompaniment services and psychological assistance on virtual platforms. The specialized guidance has been focused, among other topics, on psychological development in the different stages of childhood, on child depression during the pandemic and on the self-care of people tasked with upbringing roles.

Waiting for a diagnosis

The wait for María Fernanda’s PCR result and her isolation in one of the house’s rooms was an experience that generated major stress for the family:

“My husband’s daughter was a direct contact of a positive case, a close relative of hers. We were all isolated here at home for approximately 15 days and, in her specific case, in a single room. That experience was terrifying for us because we were very much afraid she’d turn out to be positive and have infected the rest of us at home. We were worried above all about the possibility of having to be separated if the girl had to go with my husband to an isolation center.”

“Her brothers didn’t understand the situation, they wanted to be with her and play with her, especially the little one. It was very complicated; we were very worried about María Fernanda’s state. Even while keeping our distance, we had to talk to her all the time, give her lots of encouragement, be very positive. This had an effect on us. Nowadays, even the slightest discomfort any of us feels makes us think it could be COVID-19. In the end, the result was negative, which made us very happy, but from that moment on we’ve been on alert the whole time. They don’t leave the house at all, and we only go out to do essential things.”

Another life, many challenges

“It has completely changed our lives,” are Laydai’s words to try to summarize the challenges of this stage, which have been numerous.

“The family’s routines and moods are no longer the same. We’ve had to face different situations: states of anxiety, a nervous tic, crying and sleeplessness of our children. It has been quite tough.”

Laydai: “las enseñanzas que nos resuelven la vida”
Cortesía de la familia

“The fact of dealing with the pandemic at home has implied adjusting our schedules, our living routines. This space has also become a school and a workplace, it has been a playground, it has become everything for them and for us.”

“At the same time, I’ve had to be a mother, a teacher and even a speech therapist. The youngest boy had a speech disorder and I took on that task as well. They have all been complex challenges that have lasted for quite a long time. It’s been positive to have had three of them, because they play together a lot and keep themselves company. It’s an advantage I have, but at the same time it’s a lot of work.”

The group

Laydai got to the Respectful Upbringing spaces on a friend’s recommendation. At the beginning, it didn’t seem to her like a good idea, but she’s thankful for that space today.

“My friend knew the situation, she knew I was quite stressed, that it was only my husband and I without other support. To be honest, at the beginning I didn’t see it as a necessary thing. It seemed cold and unnatural that I could get useful support over the web. But my friend insisted, she told me she was doing very well, and I decided to try it. I had no idea how much it would help me; I’ll always be grateful to her for that. It has been a vital support for me and for everyone at home in this time. We’re a family in the group already, I enjoy it a lot, it drives us and lifts us.”

“I recommend the project to many people I know. It helped me understand that study is not negotiable. I’ve also taken from it the certainty that it is necessary to respect each person’s space, as well as to understand them and listen to them. Our children need us to talk to them, give them hope and always explain what’s happening around them.”

Lessons

Laydai is convinced that one should put every last ounce of responsibility into parenting, that parents must respect the dreams, wishes and opinions of their children. Regarding this and other lessons they’ve now learned as a family, thanks to the psychological accompaniment they have received, she says:

“The first help we got was for establishing schedules. It was hard at the beginning, but we started applying it and everything flowed a lot better. We started to reduce the children’s exposure to screens and to replace that activity with others suggested by the sessions. It’s incredible how our creativity has developed; ideas have come up in a moment and we share them in the group, we’re like a family. I also learned about self-care. That’s something you sometimes neglect when you’re at home. Self-care is very important since our children sense how we feel.”

“Another lesson is that we need to find solutions to situations. It’s not about focusing on the problem, but on what to do about it. In our case, Fernando began to show a nervous tic, he blinked very frequently. When we discussed it and analyzed it, we identified it was because he was watching a lot of specific kinds of cartoons. That took the participation of everyone in the family. Those lessons from the project that we apply at home make our lives work out.”

“One of the good things of the pandemic is that we have time to be together. In that sense, and thanks to the project as well, we now know that the children can be involved in the daily tasks at home and we’re applying that, especially with the older ones. They’ve learned a lot and feel useful.”

A violence-free education for her three children is the main hope of Laydai and her husband. It’s an idea that also comes from the exchanges with project specialists.

“In these times we tend to be upset about the general situation. We’re together at home the whole time and that generates stress. The children are also irritated and have tantrums, like my youngest. There are days when we don’t manage to deal with this in the best way. That happened to me a lot before we got to the group and in the early stages of my experience in this space. The ways for solving those situations at our home we’re not ideal, although we didn’t necessarily get to physical violence.”

“The usual thing is for one to become upset and shout. That’s not right, and also, it doesn’t work. The psychologists have explained how violence generates more violence. Children tend to imitate those attitudes at other times. So we’ve chosen to talk, once the upsetting feeling has passed, but in a direct and specific way, making eye contact. This has also entailed debates with my husband, to have a common stance regarding these strategies.”


Respectful Upbringing is a project organized by the Cuban Society of Psychology, the Faculty of Psychology of the University of Havana, and the UNICEF Cuba Office. Its objective is to promote a participatory, respectful and violence-free education for children and adolescents. The initiative provides accompaniment services and psychological assistance on virtual platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook www.facebook.com/crianzayrespeto/ and Telegram: https://t.me/lacrianzarespetuosa

One of its contributions is the articles that are usually shared to complement the debates on virtual sessions. Due to the advice they offer to maintain adequate mental health in children and adolescents –the main subject of UNICEF’s most recent The State of the World’s Children report–, we suggest reading the following texts:

Child depression in the time of pandemic. – Telegraph

Anxiety in children. – Telegraph

How to manage the psychological impact of COVID on children and adolescents – Telegraph

¿How to look after our mental health to better care for our children – Telegraph

Psychological mourning in children and adolescents (physical and emotional loss) – Telegraph

Self-esteem in childhood. – Telegraph

Animated films, video games, social media and the psychological well-being of children and adolescents. – Telegraph