Stressful situations, to an extent, are generally unavoidable and dependent upon what the situation is, can be considered traumatic. We’re learning more and more about the effects of trauma; how it directs neurological input, shapes behavior, and how all aspects impact physical and mental health.
When stressful and traumatic issues arise, we feel incredibly helpless because it’s usually a considerably bigger problem than we can tackle on our own. Parents are often asking where they can start in regards to helping support their children. Here are our top 5 steps to get started:
1. Validate their feelings. No matter what they are, we must validate a child’s feelings. If they perceive an event in a way that elicits negative or upset emotions, not validating them will send the message that what they are feeling is incorrect, or worse, it doesn’t matter. A statement as simple as, “I am so sorry that you are scared about this”, can help the child feel that they are being listened to and understood. They want more than anything to know that you “get it”.
2. Focus on “what is” vs. “what if”. Reassure children by letting them know that they are safe with you right here, right now. Often we focus on the curiosities or worries of what could happen rather than what is happening right now. Have your child become a “detective”. See if they can round up any evidence that what they are worried about will in fact happen. If they try to use previous experiences, make sure they process through that entire experience (e.g. Has this ever happened to you before now, and if it did, did you get through it? How?). Another thing to consider is maintaining the normalcy of their schedule(s); the “what is” happening, if you will, of today. Keep the same structure and routine as you normally would.
3. Find teachable moments. Teachable moments are those that are unplanned, but most importantly they provide opportunity to discuss and process certain situations. Get your children’s perspectives on the situation. If there is an opportunity to have them do some perspective taking, even better (e.g. “What do you think about all this? How do you think everyone else is feeling?”). Depending on how old your child is, paired with how well you feel you understand the situation, sometimes we can demonstrate resilience within our own perspectives. Talk it out.
4. Focus on what they can control. Often children don’t fully grasp how in control of their own behavior they really are. Help your children to figure out what they have control over and what they don’t. Then focus on what they can control. This will lead to finding good solutions they will be able to follow through on.
5. Let them know who is in their support net. Who can they go and talk with about what is happening? Enlisting their help regarding who they feel the most comfortable talking to will increase the likelihood that they will seek out some support.
Children are always showing us how incredible they are when they recover from stress and trauma. Parents are the chief builders creating that capacity of resiliency, and by fostering this ability – resiliency – children will not only develop very effective problem solving skills, but also healthy emotional management.