Tips on How to Talk to Kids About Traumatic Events
Many people have memories from childhood events that left a lasting impression, but not all of them are good memories. Left unchecked, traumatic childhood events have the potential to affect children for the rest of their lifetime. Children often learn through imitating behaviors, so showing them how to deal with these life-changing events is vital to both their present and future. Here are some tips on how you can help your child cope with traumatic events such as the current pandemic so it is not a cause for future anxiety.
1. Talk to Your Kids About the Crisis
When discussing these events to your child, it is vital to provide accurate, age-appropriate facts about what is happening. This requires adults to do research to understand the facts and present them in a child-friendly manner. For example, questions about how and when the pandemic will end can be answered by explaining that there are many scientists working very hard to find a solution, but it may take a while. (Rather than, say, explaining the complexities of the FDA approval process and current drugs being tested for symptom-relief.) Be sure to know what information is beneficial for kids, and what you should omit — talking about death is a very sensitive conversation, but is often necessary to help children form healthy coping mechanisms. Be aware of when you choose to bring up this subject with your child, as timing plays a crucial role in your child’s ability to listen and internalize the information you give them.
2. Recognize Your Child’s Stress Symptoms
If a child sees someone close to them functioning normally in the context of a traumatic event, they may try to emulate that behavior without the healthy coping mechanisms that made it possible. Being able to recognize your child’s signs of stress, whether blatant or masked, is important in dealing with a crisis. If your child does not express this stress to you, you may need to address it with them to help them learn their own coping mechanism. Start the conversation to let them know that you take their concerns seriously, and that you are there to help reassure them.
3. Comfort Kids and Reassure Their Concerns
After recognizing your child’s stress, it’s time to comfort and reassure them about their fears and anxieties. There are many fears associated with traumatic events — especially those like Coronavirus that occur on such a global scale. Depending on their attachment style, their stress regarding COVID-19 may come from different places; a child who has anxiety about illness may simply be terrified by the idea of getting sick, while others may be more worried about losing loved ones. Address their fear specifically, and comfort them by letting them know that you and countless others are doing their best to prevent the spread.
4. Use Storytelling for Kids
In many cases, kids do not need information-heavy discussion. One common child-friendly strategy for addressing traumatic events is through storytelling. Stories, often set in fiction, show a beginning, middle, and end that help with:
- Listening and attentive skills
- Language skills
- Intake of accurate information
Putting traumatic events in the context of a story helps children understand the timeline of the event itself. Just like children can understand laziness and learn the value of perseverance in The Tortoise and the Hare, children can understand illness and learn the value of healthy habits (such as washing hands) through the Coronavirus pandemic. Create a story about the little-scientist-that-could or the child who learned to sew by making masks to help kids see the best in a traumatic situation.
5. Understanding Grief in Children May Take Longer
As an adult, you may have a plethora of experiences and healthy coping mechanisms to help you rationalize events like Coronavirus. Sometimes it is easy to forget that your child does not have the same experiences, and may take longer to cope as a result. This process can include tears, silence, frustration, and even hyperactivity as your child comes to terms with what has happened. If your child wants to talk, take those conversations seriously, and patiently listen to their perspective. If your child wants to be silent, give them all the time they need, but let them know that you are here to talk if needed.
In the meantime, support your child’s mental and physical health by maintaining healthy sleep habits and relaxation techniques together with everyone in the household. Hold up a sustainable status quo in your home using Brillia’s Five Pillars program. If you or your child still needs additional support, try non-prescription options such as Brillia for Adults or Brillia for Children to avoid harmful side effects.