Top five things to keep in mind when helping kids cope with crisis

watching tvAny time we’re confronted with a national crisis, whether it’s a natural disaster or an act of terrorism, it’s important to remember that kids may be experiencing amplified levels of stress or anxiety.

Even if they’re not personally affected, exposure to traumatic events through the media or in conversations can affect a child’s emotional well-being. In light of the recent attacks in Paris, we reached out to Jim Perez, Orange County Department of Education administrator for Safe Schools and Support Services, for a list of things parents and educators should keep in mind when helping children cope with tragedy.

Be understanding. Not everyone responds the same way in times of crisis. Review common stress reactions as well as grief responses and try your best to empathize with those who are being impacted. It’s common for children experiencing trauma to become more quiet or withdrawn, but others may become irritable or act out. It’s important to remember that these are all normal reactions, and adults need to respond in a calm and caring way.

Education is key. Certain reactions can make us feel out of control. Discussing stress reactions and grief responses with kids can be very helpful during times of crisis. By identifying reactions and letting them know that these are normal responses to an abnormal situation, you will already be providing a level of comfort.

Promote self-care. In time of crisis many of us become the caretakers of those who are most affected. These selfless acts of kindness are greatly appreciated, but adults must also remember to take care of themselves. Promoting self-care will ensure that you do not burn out or experience higher levels of compassion fatigue, allowing you to care for others for a longer period of time with greater efficiency.

Have patience. Just as individuals may have varying responses in times of tragedy, they will also have different timeframes for healing. Try your best to be patient with those you are caring for, as they may have a shorter or longer response time to the crisis.

Make sure to follow-up. Check in periodically to make sure that children are continuing to cope normally and do not need additional support. If additional support is needed, reach out to a school counselor or clinician. The majority of schools have school counselors on site that can meet with students to check in, help them process what they are experiencing and teach them about healthy coping strategies. If you would prefer seeking services outside of school, most medical insurances will cover these types of services.

For more OCDE tips on helping children cope with crises, click here. Or check out this blog post from Children’s Hospital of Orange County.