Responding to Children’s Emotional Needs During Times of Crisis by Colleen Kraft, M.D.

Fires. School Shootings. Hurricanes. There are some scary events happening in our world, and the images our kids see on television and the internet can be overwhelming. Here are some tips on how adults can be supportive of our children during times of crisis.

  • Take care of yourself first. Children depend on the adults around them to be and feel safe and secure.
  • Watch for unusual behavior that may suggest your child is having difficulty dealing with disturbing events. Stress-related symptoms to be aware of include:
    • depressed or irritable moods
    • sleep disturbances, including increased sleeping, difficulty falling asleep, nightmares or nighttime waking
    • changes in appetite, either increased or decreased
    • social withdrawal
    • obsessive play, such as repetitively acting out the traumatic event, which interferes with normal activities
    • hyperactivity that was not previously present.
  • Talk about the event with your child. Start by asking what your child has already heard about the events and what understanding he or she has reached. As your child explains, listen for misinformation, misconceptions, and underlying fears or concerns.
  • Explain—as simply and directly as possible—the events that occurred. The amount of information that will be helpful to a child depends on his or her age. Because every child is different, take cues from your own child as to how much information to provide.
  • Limit television viewing of terrorist events or other disasters, especially for younger children. When older children watch television, try to watch with them and use the opportunity to discuss what is being seen and how it makes you and your child feel.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions and answer those questions directly. Like adults, children are better able to cope with a crisis if they feel they understand it. Question-and-answer exchanges help to ensure ongoing support as your child begins to understand the crisis and the response to it.
  • Reassure children of the steps that are being taken to keep them safe.
  • Consider sharing your feelings about the event or crisis with your child. This is an opportunity for you to role model how to cope and how to plan for the future. Be sure that you are able to express a positive or hopeful plan.

If you have concerns about your child’s behavior, contact your child’s doctor or a qualified mental health care specialist for assistance.

The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.

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