Helping children cope with stressful events

'Sometimes kids can't keep up with grown-ups. Grown-ups need to slow down so that we can walk together.'

Families face many stresses these days. For example, long working hours, divorce, illness, unemployment and moving house affect both adults and children.

Whilst a new baby is an exciting time for a family, it can also be a time of significant change for everyone, especially children. These experiences impact on our parenting. Your own feelings at these times may be so strong that you may not notice or feel able to respond to your children's needs.

What's going on for your child?

Your child may feel frightenened, vulnerable and insecure at times of stress or change.

Do not assume your child understands what is happening. This can be a very confusing and unsettling time.

Children can feel responsible for 'bad' things happening to people they care about.

Children respond to stress or change in a number of ways:

  • They may act youngerthat their age. This is their way of telling you that it is all too much and they need you.
  • They may be clingy, demanding, or disruptive in an effort to gain attention, care, support and information from you.
  • They may have disturbed sleep, nightmares or bedwetting.
  • They may become very withdrawn or easily upset.
  • They may try very hard to make everything better for the family.
  • They may find it hard to tell you how they are feeling because they do not want to worry or upset you further.

What to do.

  • Reassure your children constantly that you love them.
  • Tell your children that what is happening is not their fault. You may need to do this a number of times.
  • Let them know that even though you may be upset yourself, you are in control.
  • Be honest and clear with your children about what is happening.
  • Where possible include your children in decisions that affect them.
  • Give your children time to talk. If they can't talk to you encourage them to talk to someone they trust.
  • Let your children know they may experience a range of feelings. Reassure them that it's OK and give them ways to express how they are feeling.
  • Take time to try and understand how they are feeling and why they are behaving the way they are. Be patient and tolerant.
  • Try to stick to familiar routines.

Make sure there are people around to support both you and your children.

Helping children cope with stressful events
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