As parents, we want our children to be happy and free from upset and distress. But everyday life can throw a curveball leaving their world completely turned upside down. Unpleasant events such as death, divorce and bullying can leave children feeling scared and unsafe. They will look to you for love and reassurance through this difficult time. If it is not handled in the correct way, these troubles can escalate and cause trauma and depression later on in their lives. Which is obviously something you want to avoid at all costs. Here are some top tips on how to care for and help your children when they are dealing with a difficult time in their life.
See it from their perspective
Think about how you would have felt at their age if something like this had happened to you. Maybe you have experienced something like this before. Consider that they might not fully grasp or comprehend what is going on. As their parent, it is your responsibility to explain fully in age appropriate terms what is going on. Leaving them in the dark could just make the whole situation frustrating and scary. If you’re getting a divorce, for instance, you may have to explain your new living situation and how their time will be separated. You could use drawings, story books or videos to help them understand. These can be applied to any traumatic event they may be facing. You may have a few tears and tantrums, but this could tell you that they now have some understanding of the situation. As hard as it might be, try to show your children that you are coping and dealing with this news in a positive way. Children are natural mimics and will follow your example.
Talking about a difficult event can be hard for families. Especially when the event is something profoundly distressing such as a death or end of a marriage. But suppressing fears and emotions can result in us feeling sad, unenthusiastic and withdrawn. This is not a good outcome for anybody but especially not for children. Talking is an ideal way of unleashing any pain, sadness or anger that they may have bottled up inside. It may also make you realise that you have some emotions to deal with too. Now they have some idea of what is going on, calmly ask your children about what is upsetting or concerning them. It could be while you’re in the garden or during play or craft time. Don’t make it feel like an interview. Keep it casual and relaxed. They may be open to talking and voice their concerns immediately. You might uncover that they are being bullied or that they have felt sad for a long time. Try not to push them if they are not yet ready to talk about it. Also, don’t be afraid to show your own emotions and share how you are feeling. Knowing that you are going through similar feelings to them can establish more trust and reassurance.
If your child has had a dramatic change in their personality and is not open to talking, you may need additional support. You could speak to your family law attorney, teachers or a bereavement counsellor. They can help you to start a course of action that could help you child deal with their issues.
Maintain a routine
Your children do not need more upheaval in their lives. So maintain their daily routine as best you can. They might need some time to adjust to the news but try to keep them going to school and seeing their friends. Normality is ideal for them during this upsetting period. Losing control is what makes children feel unsafe and scared. So a predictable routine encourages stability and security. Ensure that they go to bed and have their meals at the usual time and don’t let it slide. If you are finding it hard to deal with your emotions and struggling to stay on top of things, ask a trusted family member or friend to help. This temporary help may be just what you need to get you all back on your feet and on track.
To add to this routine, schedule in some quality time together. While it’s important that they go to school and see friends, having you there will make your children feel safe and more secure. You could rearrange your plans and treat your kids to a family day each week. This can be a time where you enjoy each others company and support each other through this dark period.
Turn off the TV
While the TV is a great source of escapism, it also highlights dramatic and negative stories on the news and in films. Turn the TV off to stop your children seeing destructive imagery or hearing news stories that could upset them. When dealing with your own issues, the last thing you family needs is to be bombarded with heart-breaking worldwide events. Especially if they are in some way related to what you are going through. Your home should feel like the safest place on earth to your kids and temporarily switching off will be beneficial to you all. Opt for storybooks and board games instead. These help remove your children from their current situation and can give them some happiness rather than fill them with fear and dread. Also, make sure the most used rooms in your home has their favourite toys, blankets and pictures in to make them feel at ease.
You could use a few or all of these tips to help your kids during a difficult time, no matter what it is. As their parent, you will know which will be the right tact for your child. Remember to listen carefully to everything your child shares with you and reassure them that it is natural to feel this way. Try to react as quickly as possible to their upset and concerns and make them feel loved at every opportunity. If you are still unsure how to progress seek professional guidance and support and talk openly about your feelings.