To Protect The Most Precious: How To Help A Child To Cope Within Stress
Author: Dariia Serdiuk
More than 30 thousand Ukrainians have already come to Ireland as of the last week of May. Gathering all their strength, everyone saved the most precious thing in their lives – themselves and loved ones. However, the struggle for prosperity must continue even in a safe place. We have collected psychologists’ advice on how to help your child overcome stress from all the changes.
Perhaps the greatest temptation for an adult in difficult times is the desire to stay away from discussing problems, to isolate emotionally and to separate the child from negative emotions. It often seems to parents as they protect their child. Psychologists insist that this is not the case. The child’s psyche is particularly vulnerable. Adult support is the main resource for minors, their support and example.
What can happen to a child?
There is no “right” response to stress and change. Each child is individual and can react in their own way. Yet the most common reaction is fear, especially fear of being abandoned, guilt, sadness, and anger. Behavior changes. Note that the following can often be observed:
Anxious memories, dreams that are often repeated, or insomnia.
Strange behavior that child demonstrated in a dangerous situation.
Sudden reactions of anger or unreasonable fear.
Avoiding places, objects, certain activities or conversations.
Isolation from the family.
The state of freezing, as if the child does not show any emotions, does not feel anything.
Refusal of activities that made the child happy or could be fun now.
Return to more childish behavior, which is no longer typical of his/her age.
Negative beliefs («the world is dangerous», «people are bad», etc.).
How to help a child
1. Normalize the expression of emotions.
2. Provide all the necessary information.
3. Follow informational hygiene.
4. Do not forget about affection and family warmth.
5. Encourage adaptation, create a routine.
6. Take care of yourself.
How to help a child?
Don’t panic if you notice something similar in your child’s behavior. He/she is experiencing severe stress, the psyche must protects. That’s fine. Your task is to help comprehend and cope with all these worries. So what exactly can you do?
Normalize the expression of emotions. «Don’t cry», «Don’t be sad», «Don’t be angry, you’re not so bad» – just stop! Not in any way allow yourself such phrases (not only in conversation with children, by the way). It is right to show emotions. It is important to show tough and perhaps uncomfortable emotions in difficult situations. Allow your child to be emotional. Explain to him/her what is happening to them, why it is normal. Show that you can be trusted and you can help. It is best to say:
«It’s ok, to feel like that, this situation is really sad»
«I feel that you are angry, don’t you?»
«I am really glad that you want to talk about it».
Provide all the necessary information. Answer the questions. Even if you think it’s too early for your child to know about war or financial problems in the family. You can use imageries, examples. Complex things can be explained through a fairy tale for younger ones. It is better to talk openly and equally with teenagers. Focus on the child’s age and vulnerability. Be honest. Lack of information always causes even more anxiety, confusion and uncertainty.
Information hygiene should be maintained at any age, but the child’s psyche is particularly vulnerable to emotional images and news. Limit the image of war.
Do not forget about affection and family warmth. Children feel more vulnerable than ever in the new environment. They may feel even guilty, unworthy of love or attention sometimes. Hugs, time together, games, walks – all this is very necessary for your child at any age.
Take care of yourself. Does everyone know the rule that in an airplane you should put on your own mask first before assisting others? Your family needs you to be healthy and strong. Take time for yourself, take care of your body and mind. Don’t forget, you are an example for a child. To learn to listen to yourself, allow yourself to feel and experience reality together.
When is it better to ask for professional help?
Yes, it is normal to experience the full range of emotions. However, sometimes our efforts may not be enough. If the child’s negative symptoms persist for more than a month and interfere with normal life, you should consult a specialist. Ukrainians can find free psychological help here.
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