Saturday, August 27, 2011

Helping Children Deal With A Crisis (and bad weather too!)

Dear Friends,
     In thinking about the weather situation, I remembered a handout I had written for parents as a school counselor.  I took the information and adapted it a bit for today's storm and wanted to share it with you.
     When children are in (or have dealt with) an unusual situation or crisis, they may want to talk about what is happening and try to sort out the details.  They may also want to talk about it often, which can seem unusual, but is very natural.  This can certainly happen in weather situations that seem scary or overwhelming to them.  
     Below are a few helpful hints to keep in mind when your student is experiencing an unusual situation or a strong reaction to a situation that feels worrisome to them.   I hope that some of these suggestions might be helpful to you.  Thank you for all you do!  Wishing you and your family a very safe weekend!
Kimberly Borin,
Learning Specialist

     Some tips for helping children to deal with a crisis include:
  • Allow children to tell their story - Children will often need to tell their story many times and sometimes in different ways.  To help students work through their emotions, I encourage them to talk about their feelings and about the situation that is upsetting them.  When they talk about how they feel, they are integrating new information, making sense of their reaction, understanding the situation, and validating their ability to cope.  It is helpful to give them space and time to tell their story, but also to set limits as to how much they are allowed to talk about it.
  • Allow children to tell their story in creative ways - To help young students access their feelings, I often draw or write with them.  We also use Play-Doh or we play as we are talking things out.  These simple distractions used in art and play therapy, also serve as forums for expression.  With Play-Doh, art supplies, or toys, children can express how they feel without having to use words.  Often, it is difficult for them to ascribe names and words to how they feel.  This is difficult for us sometimes as well!
  • Focus on the positive - Focusing on your child’s ability to be strong and resilient is also important.  Highlight their courage in dealing with any situation that can be frightening.  It is important to also affirm their courage in being able to talk about their feelings.  Sometimes, as adults, we too feel vulnerable when we share our feelings.  It helps our students when someone affirms that they are courageous in taking a chance to share how they feel.
  • Remind children that they are safe - Whenever students are experiencing a new, scary, or unusual situation, they will want to know that they are safe.  Students who go through major events and transitions in their life want to know that they are safe, that someone will take care of them, that they are loved, and that they will have a place to live.  They also worry about food, clothes, family, pets, and friends.  You may see your child asking about these things, which seem like a given to us as adults, but for them they are important elements of their life over which they have no control.  You may need to remind them over and over that they are safe, loved, and protected.
  • Normalize all feelings - A student’s feelings can range from sadness, to anger, or even worry, when they are in a situation that seems unusual.  Let them know that all of the feelings that they experience are normal.  It is important to affirm that they can experience all of these feelings at the same time as well.  It is hard for them to understand how they can feel sad, angry, scared, brave and comforted all at the same time.  This is a difficult and confusing concept for all of us to accept sometimes too.
  • Limit time with the media - When students are exposed over and over again to media images, sounds, and words, it often makes their fears worse.  You may want to limit the exposure students have to media that is talking about situations that may seem threatening.  It is good to shelter them from too much radio, TV, Internet, e-mail, texts, and phone calls about the situation.  Children will often follow your lead.  If they see that you are constantly attending to the media and are afraid or overly worried - they will often feel the same way.
  • Stick to the facts - We know that as information is shared, it can change, be adapted, and sometimes offer more cause for concern.  Be clear with students about what might happen in a given situation and reduce any exaggerations that might make them feel more vulnerable.
  • Ask for assistance - If students continue to feel worried or concerned about weather or any other situation that can be frightening, be sure to talk to your student's teacher or counselor if you need anything.  Sometimes an unsettling event, will remind students of other events that were unsettling and they may want to talk about them as well.  You may also see that when students go through a frightening situation they resort to habits and/or behaviors that were comforting for them at another (younger) time in their life.
  • Laugh along the way - Laughter is certainly the best medicine and helps us on every level.  Play, have fun, and laugh as you and your children work together to understand and cope with tough situations.