When tragedy strikes, helping children cope is an important part of the recovery process. Focus On The Family Singapore shares several ideas on how you can help your child.
When tragedy hits, life becomes filled with uncertainties. But one thing is true: the experience your family faces is not the way you would have written life’s script. Something painful, even catastrophic, has occurred in your world, and you are now left with the challenge of trying to pick up the pieces and move forward. Helping children cope is of utmost importance.
When a child witnesses or experiences a tragedy, your guidance and input as a parent is crucial to their recovery and understanding of the situation. Humans are designed to be resilient in the face of difficult circumstances as long as they face the pain. Keep in mind that each child is different — one’s personality, past experiences and age can create unique reactions that require specific responses on your part. Observe your child and see what emotional and mental changes are detectable since the trauma occurred.
1. Try to maintain a routine for a sense of normalcy.
When crisis strikes, disorientation, doubt and confusion will arise. A balanced routine gives your child something familiar to hold onto, even when much of their world appears uncertain. Identify the activities that can continue with minimal interruption. Can familiar food be prepared? Can a bedtime routine carry on uninterrupted? Can a child continue school life as before? No doubt, circumstances will require change, but giving thought to how you can maintain familiar patterns will be well worth the effort.
2. Encourage your child to be honest with their emotions.
It can help to use simple analogies to present the importance of facing our feelings. For example, you could talk about a wound. A wound needs to be cleaned and exposed to air (even through a bandage) to heal. It can be painful to clean out the germs and dirt, but unless you do that, the wound will not get better. It may even get worse!
A child may develop behavioral patterns that lock out fears or hurts. Social withdrawal, passivity, aggressiveness, rebellion or busyness and even substance abuse may be used to push the feelings away. Such patterns may win the battle but will ultimately lose the war. They may create a false sense of peace for the moment at the expense of gaining true freedom from the enslaving emotions. Remind your child that expressing their emotions is important and part of the healing process.
3. Accept your child’s emotions as they are.
A child’s emotions will vary. One may initially experience shock, disbelief or denial. The range of emotions such as fear, hurt, anger, rage, doubt, hopelessness, guilt, apathy, sadness and even depression, may come and go. As a parent, you play a vital role of acknowledging and validating your child’s feelings, however extreme they might seem. When your child expresses emotions, accept them; don’t try to produce a different emotion that makes you feel more comfortable. Generally, if your child is honestly facing his emotions, resolution will gradually take place.
Give verbal, emotional and physical support through praise, hugs and a listening ear. A sense of security will often give your child the strength to face the trauma.
In helping children cope, what else can you do? Read on to the next page.