Difficult situations and how to talk with children about them

Difficult situations and how to talk with children about them

Various unpleasant events can surprise us. Sometimes they concern us directly, other times we only hear about them. Either way, they can shake our basic certainty. They can be various natural disasters, war conflicts, epidemics... If we have children, we do not only face our own fears, but also the fears that the situation raises in them. So let's look at how to calm children in such moments and how to talk to them about difficult situations. 

If we want to help children, we need to calm down first. The smaller the children are, the more they are connected to us, and the more fundamental our own peace is. If we can only partially alleviate our fears, there is nothing wrong in naming our own emotions to children: 

“What is happening disturbs me, I am sad about it...” 

You don't have to be a hero at all costs. If we tell children that we are not afraid of anything, but they feel our fear anyway, our weird behaviour will make them even more insecure. It is important not to exaggerate, of course. We should not overwhelm children with our feelings. 

When it comes to children's emotions, the key is to recognize that these emotions are here and that it's okay. We assure the children that we are here for them and that they have our support whenever they need it. 

“It is ok to feel fear, anger, or sadness in this situation... It's not really pleasant, but we can handle it together.” 

It is also appropriate to inform children about what is happening. Of course, it is necessary to do so in accordance with their age and personality. Just as it is not worth it denying our emotions, there is no point in telling children that everything is fine either. Children perceive the ambience around them very well. They listen to what adults talk about and perceive news from the media. If they are not provided with information that is understandable to them, they will begin to form their own ideas, which may result in them becoming much more frightened than the real threat may warrant. 

In addition to explaining the situation, we must allow children to ask what they are interested in. They may want to know if they are in any danger as well. Or they will be interested in how the people directly affected by the disaster will cope. They may also feel an urge to help. 

In fact, helping others can be a very good way to deal with the unpleasant feelings that the situation brings. Start doing something instead of just sitting and worrying. At the same time, we feel good that we are somehow helpful. The same goes for children. For example, they can draw a picture, come up with a poem, a fairy tale, or share some of their toys with children who have lost theirs due to the situation. If the children do not come up with the idea themselves, we can suggest it to them, but it is not good to force them into such activities. 

It can also happen that the situation that occurred causes a very strong fear in the children, which paralyses them. This way, they are unable to perceive anything but a sense of danger. In such moments, there is no point in explaining anything, it is primarily important to help children cope with fear. For young children, our contact, hugs, and reassurance that we are with them contribute to the feeling of safety:

“I am here with you, you are safe. This feeling will pass soon.”

We can also name this feeling and use a breathing exercise for calming down: 

“That certainly is a big fear. Let's get it out of the body together now. We will inhale and exhale, and we will hiss like a snake, for as long as we can.”

It is good to support your child by performing this technique with them. We continue until the stress subsides. Children who are not yet able to pronounce the letter S can extend their exhalation by the letter A or U. 

Stories can be very helpful for a better understanding of challenging events. In addition to those that books or movies offer, we can talk to children about the fact that similar situations have happened in the past, and people have been able to get through them. Maybe we even have someone like that in the family or in our circle of acquaintances. With the help of stories, children find out how such events can take place, how people experience them, how they act, and what they can do to manage the situation. 

You can also find stories about challenging events in Readmio.  The story of the High Water opens a series of stories about a natural disaster that sweeps away homes. You will learn in it that even a seemingly hopeless situation can be managed if someone helps us. Sometimes even someone we don't really like needs our help. Just as in the story about Ants and the puddle. The story about Little Sophie and Great Fear shows how children can manage their worries with the help of an adult. 

We wish you a lot of strength in difficult times and do not forget that if the discomfort lasts for a long time, it is important to pay attention to what you and your children enjoy, to make yourself happy and to gain new energy. 

Jana Draberová

Is a psychologist specializing in working with children and adolescents. In addition to psychology, she also studied pedagogy. For seven years she has worked in a psycho-pedagogical counseling center. Currently, she devotes herself to psychological work mainly within her private practice.


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