How do you help kids cope during emergencies or tragedies? Or, how to help a child after a traumatic event or helping kids cope with anxiety? We’ll talk about explaining trauma to a child, how to help a child in crisis, and all about feeling safe and being safe during public health disasters, natural disasters, weather storms, public health emergencies, or personal stress and even dealing with disappointment activities.
There will come a time when children traumatized by earthquake, tornadoes, or other natural disasters, public health disasters, or even personal stress and dealing with disappointment.
But … how do you help kids cope with stress and how to help a child in crisis?
Kids need an environment of feeling safe and being safe. However, sometimes it may be difficult to understand what kids are going through in an emergency or during traumatic events.
Children may exhibit a range of adjustment difficulties after a disaster; in many situations, children may be having significant distress but not show any obvious symptoms.
Signs of Stress in Kids
- Acting out / not following rules
- Unusual level of anger
- Sudden bedwetting
- Stomach aches / upset stomachs
- Change in eating habits
- Suddenly withdrawn / feeling lonely
- Boredom / frustration
- Crying for (seemingly) no reason
- Trouble sleeping
- Not wanting to be without parents or alone
- Sudden habits (or starting old habits again) like: thumbsucking, hair twirling/hair sucking, nose picking, etc.
- Academic issues / grade changes
- Anything else that is out of the normal for your child
- Symptoms of depression / PTSD
KidsHealth.org reminds us that stress is a normal reaction to some situations:
Remember that some level of stress is normal; let your kids know that it’s OK to feel angry, scared, lonely, or anxious and that other people share those feelings. Reassurance is important, so remind them that you’re confident that they can handle the situation.
How To Help Kids Cope
Coping with a disaster or traumatic event with kids:
- Remain as calm as you can around the kids.
- Reassure your kids that they are safe.
- Meet their questions and concerns head-on.
- Continue routines and schedules as best as possible.
- Limit exposure to news and social media talking about the event (if applicable).
- Recognize unusual behavior that may be due to the stress.
- Encourage dialogue and help kids put feelings into words.
- Talk about your own stress to allow kids to feel safer talking about their own.
- Try not to approach the topic before bedtime or right before they head off to school.
- Prepare for emergencies.
- Distract kids with fun or friends and getting outside.
- Use calming techniques like deep breathing, calming music, doing relaxing quiet time activities (Lego building, drawing, puzzles, etc.).
- Enlist professional help, if needed.
KidsHealth.org also reminds that there might be a time when you may need to seek professional help for your child:
Most parents have the skills to deal with their child’s stress. The time to seek professional attention is when any change in behavior persists, when stress is causing serious anxiety, or when the behavior causes significant problems at school or at home.
If you need help finding resources for your child, consult your doctor or the counselors and teachers at school.
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Dealing with Disappointment Activities
On the other end of the spectrum from trauma and crisis and natural disaster events, is how to help kids cope with disappointment.
It may seem minor when discussing things like tornado destruction or health scares, but disappointment is a big deal to kids — especially if they (or you) don’t have the tools to deal with it.
How to Explain Disappointment to a Child
What do you say when your child is disappointed?
- “I completely understand that you’re disappointed about…”
- “Can you tell me how you’re feeling?”
- “What can I do to help you through this?”
- “What disappoints you the most about this?”
- “I know you’re feeling hurt…”
- “How did it feel when that happened?”
- “What would you have done differently?”
- “What do you wish would’ve happened?”
How do you teach a child to deal with disappointment?
- Allow your child to feel disappointed.
- Validate that it’s OK to feel disappointed about what happened.
- Don’t brush it off with “It’s OK!” and expect them to feel better immediately.
- Focus on the work they put into something (not how they failed at it).
- Comfort them and let them know you’re there for them without judgment.
- Allow them space to get over the disappointment in their own time (not in your time).
- Create an ongoing safe space where kids know it’s OK to fail or feel disappointed (and to talk to you about it!).
Children’s Books About Coping, Anxiety and Worry
(And, one for the parents!)
WHAT ARE YOUR TIPS FOR HELPING KIDS COPE DURING WEATHER, DISASTERS OR TRAUMATIC EVENTS?