There is insurance to deal with the financial fall out of a crisis, but there is no emotional insurance. A crisis can be overwhelming to deal with, especially if you have little people to consider. A crisis can come in many forms - change in personal circumstances, family dynamics, natural disasters, illness, loss of a loved one, or so many other things. It can be a hard time for everyone, so here are our top tips for helping children deal with a crisis.
Children have big emotions at the best of times. When they feel something, they really feel it. Children are still learning to master their feelings in day to day life, but when there is a crisis to deal with on top of that, their already-big feelings can get even bigger.
A crisis can be confusing for children, especially if they are still very young. It is important to make considerations for them, even though you are probably having to deal with a lot also.
There will be a lot of things to talk about, and a lot of things for your children to try and understand. Make sure that you take the time to really listen to them. That does not mean just listening to what they are saying directly. Also listen to what they are not saying, and if their behaviour is any different.
Give your children the chance to express their feelings and concerns. Try asking them some open-ended questions that will allow them to get things off their chest - ‘What news did you hear?’, How does it make you feel?’, ‘Do you have any questions?’. Really listen to their answers without interrupting or correcting them. Then, give them clear reassurances to quell any fears: we will do everything we can to keep you safe.
Not every child will be able to talk about what they are feeling. So, encourage them to write about it, or even draw or paint about it. Get them a special diary or journal that they can write all their thoughts in. Even get them one with a lock if you think it will help them feel comfortable writing about their emotions.
You could use it as a way to communicate. They can write you a message in the journal and leave it on your pillow. You can read it and respond appropriately, whether it is by speaking, or writing a reply in the journal for them to read.
Most of all, remember to play. Play is an outlet for children, and they can tell stories with their play that they might not think to talk about otherwise. It can also be a healthy distraction for the whole family to spend time playing together.
In a crisis children will need to know that they are in a safe environment. They may become clingy, or even go the opposite and become distant. Children need reassurance, acceptance, understanding and support in order to cope. They also need to feel safe, and know that they have someone that they can rely on. Give them that feeling of safety so that they can process their own emotions without fear.
Try not to let them withdraw in themselves, as it can be hard for them to climb back out. Try to limit TV and screen time, as they may use it as an escape from dealing with their emotions.
Your children will look to you for how they should react and behave. Allow yourself the time to process your own emotions, so that you can have space to help them deal with theirs. Explain it is alright to feel sad, or scared, or upset, and that those feelings will pass with time.
We are all flying by the seat of our pants in this parenting gig. I don’t think that any parent can claim that they have it together 100% of the time! And when there is the added pressure of a crisis or major event, sometimes we lose it. And that is alright. No one is perfect. It is alright to lose it, even if you lose it in front of your children without meaning to.
The important thing is to talk about what happened after you have calmed down. Explain why Mummy was crying, or why Daddy wasn’t able to talk at the time. Tell your children what is going on with you, and apologise if the situation calls for it. We are all human, and it can be good for children to see that parents have emotions too.
Everyone will deal with a crisis differently. If you are lucky enough to have people around you offering support, then accept it with open arms. Do not underestimate the pressures that you are under. You do not have to be a superwoman, or superman. If you have someone you can trust to ask for support, then ask them. Whether it is support for yourself, or for your children, share the load. They do say that a problem shared is a problem halved.