Friday, September 7, 2012

Preparing Children and Families for Negative Events

Scary and painful events happen everyday, but the recent tragedies, remind us that young children are not immune from these events.  These tragedies, made by both humans and nature, across our nation sparked numerous articles on how to help children cope with tragedy and trauma.  Luckily, parents will be able to find these resources so they can better understand how to support their child through this time. However, why begin only addressing the negatives in life after one has happened?  We tend to underestimate what children can handle, and avoid subjects we find uncomfortable. For example, a brief search on how to prepare children for traumatic events brought up resources for helping children cope with trauma after it happened, but not how to prepare children for the inevitable challenges we all face in life.

Most parents feel uncomfortable addressing issues that are painful with children, and ECE providers often feel that this is not their purview. However, since many children spend most of their weekdays in some from of care outside of the home- where else is it going to happen and how do ECE providers support parents in helping their child develop resilience around challenges? The two most important things that ECE professionals can do to help children are to promote resiliency within your program and to help children understand that negatives happen but life goes on.

As ECE professionals we cannot ignore painful events that children encounter, and to do so would devalue the child's experience.  However, we can help both parents and children prepare for these events by normalizing that sad things happen to everyone, and support children through these difficult times.  This does not mean that we go into graphic detail of every negative thing that can happen, but it does mean not ignoring that they happen.  Many children's books address these issues in an age-appropriate manner that helps to normalize difficult situations.

Here are some ideas for addressing these issues in your program so that children will not be surprised that negative things happen and they will have the skills to handle them:

  • Share titles of children's books that deal with these difficult topics with the parents in your program, and let them know that you read books about painful events.   
  • Provide parents with articles on how to talk about issues, such as death, divorce, and crime.
  • Encourage parents to talk with their children about events they may have heard on the news, to acknowledge their child's fears, and to reassure their child that they will do everything possible to keep them safe.
  • If children have heard something on the news, do not avoid talking about it with them. Give simple answers that are age-appropriate, and emphasize the positive. For example, if a child hears that there was a shooting, acknowledge it, and remind them that the police are working to keep us safe.
  • As Mr. Roger's mother said, "Focus on the helpers." Help children understand that no matter what there will people who will help them and that they can help as well.
  • Promote resiliency in your program by encouraging children to express themselves, asking children to listen to others, giving children jobs, encouraging children to help one another, and talking about your own emotions.
The path to promoting resiliency in children is rife with dangers of going to far so trend lightly, but don't let the risks keep you from walking that path.  We never know when the next tragedy will strike, and it is better to be prepared than to feel sideswiped.  Our children need to know that they are capable individuals with people who will support them no matter what.