EPIC Blog: Working with Children in Times of Uncertainty - 4KIDS
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EPIC Blog: Working with Children in Times of Uncertainty

April 25th, 2020 l Author: Mariana Caro, LCSW

Times of uncertainty are stressful for everyone. Maybe someone in your family just got a difficult diagnosis. Perhaps there’s been a loss in the family that has changed the entire family structure. Maybe you’re preparing for a natural disaster to hit, or you’re recovering from a crisis.

These times of uncertainty are stressful. They can be scary, they can be sad, maybe they’re even overwhelming. It seems hard to know what to do as an adult, let alone to know how to best support a child through a season like that. The first priority in times of uncertainty is to regulate yourself. Children look to adults to know how to process times of stress and uncertainty. They listen to what we say when we think they’re not listening, and they watch our body language and our actions. They want their parents to sound and act like they are stable; then they will feel safe and secure.

Kids are very perceptive to change in their routines and their environments – so if something is going on, chances are high that they are aware of it. When working with children who’ve experienced trauma, this is especially true because their brains are hardwired to detect danger.

So first, we need to regulate ourselves. Give yourself space to let your feelings out, to talk through things with another adult, pray, and then make a plan for your family. Next, connect with your kids. Talk to your children about the uncertainty at a developmentally appropriate level. Be honest about what’s going on in a way that validates that they are sensing something real, but that does not cause more anxiety for them. You may say things like, “Yes, this feels scary and we’re not exactly sure how this will end. One thing we know for sure, though, is that we’re going to get through this together.”

Allow whatever feelings arise to be present without judgment. Their feelings may be directly connected to the uncertainty, or the current situation may be triggering feelings from their past experiences. Either way, practice sitting with their feelings and naming them for them. “Knowing that grandma is sick makes you sad; it makes me sad too” or “It’s scary to see empty shelves at the store as people get ready for this incident.” It’s okay to not be able to fix the problem. Answer their questions. Don’t give them more information than what they can handle. It’s okay not to have all the answers. Life is full of situations that do not have immediate fixes and simple answers; helping your children to sit in the uncertainty and to have their feelings acknowledged in the midst helps increase their resiliency.

The only answer that matters in times of uncertainty is that we, as the adults, are going to do everything we can to keep them safe. Lastly, once you’ve sat with their emotions, now you can show them the plan that you have to get through the season. Maybe you even come up with a plan together. You can say, “Yes, this feels scary because we can’t control what’s going to happen. Here’s what we can do, though. We can put shutters up on the windows and bring in all the house plants, do you want to help?” Or you can say, “It’s sad knowing your friend is sick and it’s hard knowing you can’t change that. Here are some things that we can do – we can write her a letter and send her flowers to let her know we’re thinking of her”. The goal is to get through the season together, working intentionally to stay connected and regulated in the process