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In Crisis What Children Need

When a dramatic traumatic event takes place it makes all of us feel threatened, uncertain about the future and often insecure at a psychological level. It makes adults unsure of how to respond. For those of us not on the scene of a crisis situation, hearing and reading about it can make us feel helpless along with feelings of worry, anger and disgust. When adults feel these ways they often try to control something when many other things feel out of control. So in the midst of crisis feelings in the country, or even locally, people control what they can – buying gasoline, getting money out of banks, purchasing food supplies and toilet paper. Controlling something comforts us in a way that gives back a sense of security.

For children the issue is the same when they feel personal crisis. While children may not understand the implications of a national or international crisis, they feel parent anxiety, see changes in television programming, or hear ideas, rumors and opinions of their friends, leaving them feeling anxious or insecure. In secure healthy families attuned parents talk about these changes, ask questions about what a child understands and provides information at the level of a child’s questions. Most importantly parents must understand the need to provide extra reassuring hugs, time and secure talk. Parents are the source of security for their children.

When children feel threatened they too try to control something and it may first of all be a need for extra parent time and attention. Without reassurance and connection children are likely to control other people and actions. They may become more aggressive with siblings, more withdrawn and self-soothing (biting on clothing, nail chewing, tapping pencils, swinging a leg, making annoying noises) or attention needy.

The following are suggestions for helping children through anxious times that affect their personal feelings:

1. Keep yourself available to provide extra presence (time) with your child.
2. Talk in general terms about the crisis and address specific questions that they have about events.
3. Keep routines as consistent and normal as possible.
4. Make use of gentle secure touch on a consistent basis.
5. Positive eye contact, compassionate tone of voice and empathy for them are major ways they understand security with parents. Use these aspects of relationships wisely.

Remember, when damage occurs that effects children’s sense of security, parents become the secure repair that children need.

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