Supporting Young Children After Crisis Events


 

A kid on the window waiting

2020 has been one for the record books!  Between COVID-19, virtual learning, social distancing, and an unexpected derecho, many communities and families are stretching their band of resiliency to the max.  Young children can have a difficult time processing the world around them especially amongst so many difficult situations.  They may be confused by a parent’s increased stress level after being furloughed due to COVID or they may have a diminished sense of security if their home or community was ravaged by storms. 

In the July 2020 volume of NAEYC’s Young Children, authors of the article Supporting Young Children after Crisis Events, share the following information about the effects of crisis situations on young children:

 

 “Crises can also potentially have short- and long-term effects on children’s psychological functioning, emotional adjustment, health, and developmental trajectories, and may even have implications for their health and their social and psychological functioning in adulthood. As a group, children are resilient, but they are still among those most at risk of psychological trauma and behavioral difficulties after a crisis.” 

This illustrates how important it is for us, as teachers and caregivers, to observe how young children regulate their emotions and offer support as they navigate crisis situations. The authors suggest these basic steps when caring for a child that has experienced trauma from a crisis:

 

  • Ask children what they have heard or what they understand about the crisis.
  • Express empathy and concern. Let children know you’ve heard about the “scary,” “dangerous,” or “violent” event and are available to listen and offer support.
  • Start by providing basic information about what has happened. Avoid graphic details and limit unnecessary specifics unless children ask specific questions.
  • Be genuine and allow yourself to show emotions when sharing emotionally laden information. Children can tell when adults are authentic in their communications, especially by the tone of voice and nonverbal behavior. 
  • Invite the conversation. Use simple, direct, open-ended and non-leading questions. For example, ask, “How are you and your family doing?” rather than “Has the sadness your parents have been feeling led to more fighting at home?”
  • Listen and observe. Listen more and talk less. Remember, adults often keep talking when they are anxious. You may help start the discussion by sharing observations in a nonjudgmental manner about the young child’s behavior (holding on to a favorite toy, continually looking at the door for a parent’s arrival). 
  • Limit personal sharing. You can draw on your personal experiences to help you better understand children through their developmental lens, but you do not need to share this with the children. They may otherwise feel the talk is more about you. Keep the focus on the children and their experience. Feel free to share with children the coping strategies that you and others have found helpful.
  • Offer practical advice in response to concerns that children raise. For example, if a child mentions difficulty falling asleep, discuss ways to relax. However, offering solutions to problems that children haven’t experienced may lead them to question why their experience is different or confuse them about what is most relevant.
  • Offer reassurance and your commitment to be available for them. Without minimizing their concerns, let children know that over time it will be easier to cope with their distress and that you will be there to help them.
  •  Maintain contact. At first, young children may not accept your invitation to talk or your offer of support. Their questions will come up over time. Remain accessible, concerned, and connected.

 

Although you may not see immediate results of your efforts, you are supporting the development of the emotional well being of children and families as they work through the long term effects of crisis situations. Please take the time to dig in deeper by reading the article, Supporting Young Children after Crisis Events.  Please feel free to contact Michelle Haberman (mhaberman@centralriversaea.org) or Jessie Blohm (jblohm@centralriversaea.org) for more information. 

Schonfeld, D.J., Demaria, T., Kumar, S.A. (2020). Supporting Young Children after Crisis Events. Young Children. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from: https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/jul2020/supporting-young-children-after-crisis-events