The world around us is in the midst of extraordinary change. The very fabric of our day-to-day lives is being altered in ways that we never would have imagined. Television and computer use, forces that dominate over 60% of our children’s recreational time, are filled with images of war and violence, high levels of sexual content, ongoing acts of terrorism, and day to day pictures of real people dying and being injured. These horrifying aspects of reality are being brought to our families in living color. Reality TV is here to stay. Aside from the almost addictive nature of these presentations, one must question the effect that these powerful images and events will have on both children and adults. Especially vulnerable, are those of us who live with greater sensitivity and higher levels of stress and anxiety. Children, our most precious resource, will undoubtedly be affected by the intense and unrelenting pressure of these uncertain times.
It is the obligation of parents and teachers to help our children feel safe, even if they, themselves, are feeling threatened and vulnerable. We must help our youngsters understand current events factually, teach them to examine and understand their emotional reactions, and help them see how events do or do not impact their lives. Our thoughtful guidance can make the difference in helping children develop the emotional and psychological coping skills they are going to need..
The National Association of School Psychologists has developed a set of strategies for helping children cope during these unsettling times:
- Remain calm and reassuring. Children take their cues from our reactions and will need help discriminating between possible and probable threat.
- Acknowledge and normalize the child’s feelings. Allow discussions and questions regarding feelings and concern. Empathic listening is critical to the anxious child.
- Take care of yourself. If you are anxious or upset your children are more likely to be so as well.
- Maintain a normal routine and consistent structure. Routines and predictability are the cornerstones of trust and security.
- Increase the amount of enjoyable family time; reassurance comes from positive contact.
- Focus on and reinforce your child’s strengths. Identify the times they have coped with stress in the past and reward their courage. Feeling competent improves resiliency.
- Limit television time to a reasonable amount, and when possible watch TV with your children. Be available to discuss what they are seeing. Children need help to understand their feelings.
- Discuss events in age appropriate terms. Don’t let their vocabulary fool you; they are still children.
- Stick to the facts. Don’t speculate about what could happen.
- Be prepared to discuss the concept of death. Children often associate catastrophe, threats, and death as connected ideas.
- Have a family plan. This is important not only if something does happen, but will also help encourage feelings of being in control. Older children will do better with plans; younger children may become alarmed. Recognize the developmental level of the child.
- Do something positive with your children. Contributing to others in need makes the child and family feel like its doing something, and reduces feelings of helplessness.
While the above strategies can be useful in dealing with issues of anxiety and stress, it is important to recognize those children for whom anxiety is symptomatic of a deeper psychological issue. Adults should contact a professional if a child exhibits significant changes in behavior or severe reactions. The occurrence of the following symptoms over a prolonged period of time may be a clue to seek help:
- Preschoolers– thumb sucking, bedwetting, clinging to parents, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, fear of the dark, regression in behavior, withdrawal from friends and routines
- Elementary School Children– Irritability, aggressiveness, clinginess, nightmares, school avoidance, poor concentration, withdrawal from activities and friends.
- Adolescents– sleeping and eating disturbances, agitation, increase in conflicts, physical complaints, delinquent behavior, and poor concentration.
Remember, good parenting is retrospective. Examine the events of the day and there’s a good chance you’ll have a better handle on dealing with your children’s issues the next time they occur. Everything always happens again, and you will get another chance to do it right!!!!!!!!