Our mission at Drawn to Discover is to provide children with the skills and tools to better express themselves and find their voice. These skills and tools can be especially important during scary times. With the current natural disasters occurring across the globe and other fear-invoking events, we thought it’d be helpful to focus on some important points for helping children cope with anxiety. We’ve also included a few helpful resources at the bottom.
The 24-hour news cycle feeds on hype and fear. Much of this seeps into our social media lives as well. Except for the occasional Irishman trying to catch a bat, this has been especially true for the past year and a half. Moreover, this fall, not only have we had to deal with this persistent and pervasive anxiety-laden undercurrent, but we have also been facing major natural disasters. Across the globe, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and earthquakes are impacting millions of lives. Additionally, we live with the escalating events with North Korea, terrorist attacks across Europe, and ongoing violence and political divisiveness right here in America. These events affect us and they affect our children.
Many of things we can do to help children cope with traumatic events or anxiety are the same things they need on a daily basis, they just become more amplified. Here are four key things adults can provide: 1) stability, 2) listening, 3) honesty, and 4) play.
Under stress we regress. Thus, the more stability, structure, and normalcy we can provide for children the better. Stressful events can cause uncertainty; providing structure and emotional support can help alleviate this. Similarly, disastrous events can shake our feelings of control so it is important to focus upon what we can control. Helping children gather donations, make cards for those impacted, and other such activities can be a way to alleviate anxiety and help others as well.
During stressful times, be sure to take of yourself as well. There is a reason airlines instruct adults to put their oxygen masks on first. While it is important to stay current with national and world events, overexposing yourself to negative and scary news that is out of your control can needlessly heighten your anxiety. Additionally, as a parent these events can be even scarier because it taps into fears for your children. Be sure you are finding that stability and structure for yourself as well.
Being an active listener for your child is a very important way to help them process what is going on. It is also important for you as an adult because it can help you better assess their needs. It can help you provide them with the right kind of information to correct misinformation or exaggerated beliefs.
Don’t forget that your children are listening too, even when you think they aren’t. As the saying goes, “little pitchers, have big ears.” Just as you are careful with what you say directly to your children, be intentional with what you say whenever they are near.
It is important that we be honest with children about what is happening and it is very important that we give age appropriate information. Lying won’t help and neither will giving too much or unnecessary detail. Children need to be reassured that they are safe and that we are protecting them. Lying betrays that trust. Therefore, answer their questions as straightforward as possible and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know an answer. You can always explore it together or even ask the child what they think and discuss from there.
Play is a child’s natural learning milieu. Play is also how children process their emotions. Be sure to provide creative outlets and opportunity for free, imaginative play – video games don’t count here because they don’t allow for the same brain activities. While talking can be an important piece for relieving anxiety, play is especially important for younger children. This is their language and they will be able to work through things we aren’t even aware of.
There is constant fear-based information bombarding us and our children on a daily basis. Focusing on stability, listening, honesty, and play can help mitigate the anxiety from that daily bombardment and from disastrous or traumatic events. For more information, see the following resources.