The World Seems Scary Right Now, How do We Help Our Children Cope?Natural disasters, racial unrest, pandemics, and other troubles on our planet can strike fear and anxiety in the best of us.
Our children do not have years of experience and maturity under their belt, so they process these circumstances much different than we do.
As parents, we may notice that fear increases in our children as worldly events happen.
This leaves us pondering, The world seems scary right now, how do we help our children cope?
Encourage Your Child to Reach Out
It may be tough for your child to talk about scary events and circumstances that happen in the world, but encourage your child to reach out to individuals that they trust and love, especially you, when they feel upset or fearful. This helps your child release feelings before they expand out of proportion. It also helps to clear any misconceptions your child may have before it becomes full-blown fear.
It is important to reassure your child that the events are unusual and that safety measures are in place. Explain to your child that life may be difficult at times and be honest with how you cope. Having this conversation is your opportunity to be open with your child that these circumstances are real but reassure them that safety measures have been taken that helps to prevent these tragedies from happening to them.
When you model calm you set an example of coping that your child can use for him or herself for years to come. Kids copy how we react to the world and how we deal with fears. By displaying calm, you also add a soothing level of security to the home environment for your child. Through your child’s eyes, you look unruffled and happy, and your child will think, What do I have to worry about?
Set Media Limits
Are you glued to radio, television, or social media that broadcasts (and often exaggerates) the news? Your child notices the time you spend listening and watching, and they detect how you do or do not filter the world out. When talking with your child about things that they find scary, reassure them that sometimes they simply need to take a break away from the news. Just turn it off for a while. It is okay. It is also healthy for your child to set limits with friends or others when talking about events. Encourage them to say, “I’ve heard enough,” or, “I would rather talk about something else.”
Make it a Game
Urge your child to dip into their imagination and show you how they can become the superhero (or whatever character they choose) to ward off the scary stuff. Put your child in the driver seat and ask him how they imagine slaying what looks like a monster of a storm! A mother shared with me that her six-year-old child feared the virus pandemic. Her child said, “Everyone is sick! Those are big numbers!” So, the mother arranged some blocks. One block to the left represented the number of people sick, and many more blocks to the right represented the number of people not sick. Then she said, “We do not go unprotected near that one block (person) on the left (The Virus). There is an invisible shield between us and them and you know what keeps that shield secure? Our masks.” The imaginary game went on from there…masks were worn in the living room and secret weapons filled the air. The mother threw her imagination into the game, “The enemy, The Virus, can see our eyes above our masks, so he knows we are fierce warriors! We wash our hands often with soap—our secret weapon to The Virus! As the game went on, the child growled in an imaginary hero voice, “See my eyes, no Virus can touch me! I also have a secret weapon – soap!” There were no more virus worries in that household.
Events that occur in our world can feel personal as if they have thrown our day or life off, but in most cases, this is only how our mind perceives scary events. Life can continue as it did each day before.
Encourage your child to talk about how they are feeling and encourage them to stick with familiar routines. Do not hesitate to give your child reassuring advice, “We take good care of ourselves—we feel better when we stick to routines, regardless of what is going on in the rest of the world.”
Endorse and encourage regular activities, familiar mealtimes, and regular bedtimes. Routines lead to habits. Healthy habits build resiliency skills that your child can live by.
Take Extra Measures During Stressful Times
If you notice that your child is showing signs of anxiety, which can range from not wanting to leave your side, problems sleeping at night, sadness, aggressiveness, or reverting to prior behavior (for example thumb-sucking, stomping feet, or biting fingernails), you may need to take extra steps to ease fear and stress. Consider temporary measures like leaving the light on at night, reading or staying close to your child as they fall asleep, or reassuring your child that you will be near or reachable if they need you. Are you a hugger? Giving or getting a hug can bring on a sense of soothing peace and love. A hug can go a long way with a child. Teach your child to reach out and say, “I need a hug!” If your child is too old for a hug (teenagers!), try touching in other ways. Try a high five, which offers encouragement, “All is good! We can do this!”
We all encounter scary world circumstances, but you and your child’s circumstances in life are unique which makes coping a personal journey. Use your own experiences and knowledge to guide your child, but if this feels as if it is not working, or if it seems too big to handle, know that you are not alone. We can help. At the Family Guidance & Therapy Center, we serve the whole family with therapy designed to help you get the most out of life. There is no way to quantify your love for your loved ones. We are here for you so that your family stays strong. We are supportive of your values and determined to help each member of your family grow. There are three easy ways to make an appointment with us, schedule an appointment online, call 619-600-0683, or text 619-607-1230.