Cultivating Our Role: A Guide for Navigating Crisis and Conflict with Young Children
November 15th, 2015 | by SRC
The following issue brief is part two of a larger series developed by School Readiness Consulting: A Guide for Navigating Crises and Conflict with Young Children. We will publish new sections periodically to illuminate the challenges faced by young children in stressful situations. The Guide offers practical strategies for adults to help children build an understanding of complex interpersonal relationships and develop coping skills. Upcoming posts will address how to identify signs of stress; how to create safe and caring environments; and how to build resilience in young children. This issue brief was written by Mimi Howard, with contributions from Je’Kendria Trahan, Rebecca Weiss, and Lindsey Allard Agnamba. To view part one of this series, click here.
Through a Child’s Eyes
When a portrait of the impact from the events in Nigeria, Baltimore, Nepal, and now Charleston, comes to mind, are children there? Whether it’s an unavoidable natural disaster or a violent act of terrorism, children of all ages, backgrounds, and capabilities can experience both internal and external reactions to these significant moments in our lives. Each reader can likely remember a tragic event they’ve endured or learned about during their childhood, and may even be able to attribute to it an element of their personal growth and development.Violence and disasters have always been a very real and prevalent part of life in our world. However, with the massive surge in the use of social media as a means to share current events, explicit information and vivid imagery from these incidents greatly impact our attempts to provide a sense of safety and security to our children . When the hashtags fade out of the spotlight and the brunt of the tragedies ease with time, children are still there, armed with their own unique levels of resilience and competence.
Common Physical Indicators
Whether through secondhand information or direct exposure, children need the help of adults around them to make sense of their experiences and feelings. In fact, support from caring and informed adults is the most important element of helping children deal with the confusion, fear, and anxiety that often comes from exposure to violence or disasters. Because children react to violence and trauma differently than adults, it is not always clear what they are feeling – making it difficult for adults to know how to respond. In addition, the ways children react, what they are able to understand, and how they are able to cope with adversity, will change over time.
Following are common reactions children may display and ways that adults can helpfully and effectively respond:
- Young children may revert to old behaviors such as thumb sucking or wetting the bed after exposure to trauma.
- Eating and sleeping habits can change or be inconsistent.
- Children may experience unexplained aches and pains.
- Increased levels of fear – of strangers, monsters or darkness often occur, and children want to stay close to trusted adults and places where they feel safe.
- Children reenact events through play or tell exaggerated stories about what happened.
- Older children become more withdrawn–spending less time with friends and/or fearing going to school.
- Doing homework and paying attention often become difficult, and overall school performance may decline.
What Children Need From Us
For the most part, these behaviors subside over time and children bounce back to regular routines and behaviors. That being said, there are a number of effective ways that adults can help mitigate stress or confusion and support children. Here are some things adults can do:
1. Create a safe and responsive environment: Be reassuring and create a sense of safety by speaking calmly when interacting with children. Be sure children are getting regular meals and plenty of sleep and exercise. Maintaining normal, regular routines can help children feel more secure, but adults should be prepared to deal with fears, worries, or unusual behaviors as well. Provide close, personal attention and find time for special activities. Finally, don’t forget to play – it relieves stress and anxiety.
2. Listen and watch: Through their actions and words, children let adults know how they are feeling and what they understand. Adults in turn, should let children know that they are completely focused on them, ready and willing to listen, and interested in what they have to say. Asking open-ended questions is a good way to get children talking while helping them work through concerns or misconceptions. Adults should be willing to accept what they hear children say, and let them know their feelings are okay. Because young children may not have the words they need, use play and other creative activities to encourage expression – both verbal and nonverbal. Finally, reading books can be a powerful tool for opening conversations and helping children identify feelings.
Works Cited/Additional Resources:
National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) and The National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). An Activity Book for African American Families: Helping Children Cope with Crisis. 2003/2012. http://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/cope_with_crisis_book/Pages/index.aspx
National Child Traumatic Stress Network and National Center for PTSD. Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide (2nd. Ed.) http://www.nctsn.org/content/psychological-first-aid
US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services. Tips for Talking to Children in Trauma: Intervention at home for preschoolers to adolescents.
Save the Children. How to Help Children Cope with Crisis. http://www.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.8479773/k.2264/How_to_Help_Children_Cope_with_a_Crisis.htm
National Association of School Psychologists. Talking to Children about Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers. http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/talkingviolence.pdf
Deborah Harris (2012) Talking to Children about Crisis. http://www.caddo.k12.la.us/sites/2/files/CN-Nugget%20Tips%20April2013.pdf