Unforeseeable disruptions to regular life can be frightening, especially for children. It’s difficult enough to explain to adults why tornados happen but try telling a child. Try explaining a job loss or the end of a relationship to an adult. Intellectually we may understand but it’s still complicated. And children do not yet possess the same intellectual capacity as adults.
Monday’s tragedy in Oklahoma affected not one but two elementary schools. School, like home, is supposed to be a safe place. As I write this article, there are 24 deaths, including 10 children. That’s a lot of information for anyone, adult or child, to wrap his/her head around.
As residents of this small town begin to literally pick up the pieces from Monday’s ruin, they will try to understand how to continue living their lives. Eventually, most will learn a new way to live and they will adapt to their tragedy.
There are, unfortunately, times in children’s lives when they may experience unwelcome disruptions to their routine. There could be a natural disaster, such as a tornado or the divorce of a child’s parents. The following are just four suggestions about what we as adults can do to help children deal with fears:
Encourage children to talk about their feelings. If they’re too young and/or don’t have the vocabulary yet, let them express themselves through drawing or playing. Have them show you how they feel. Support their feelings and try not to minimize their fears.
Remind children that they are loved and although bad things happen, most of the time, they don’t. Help them to think about a place that makes them feel safe. Maybe it’s in grandma’s living room or it could be in your arms. Help your child to imagine that safe place and the feeling that comes from being in that safe place. Let them know that when they feel scared, they can always think about that place and feel safe.
If you’ve tried many ways to help your child feel safe and nothing seems to work- consult with a therapist who works with children. Licensed therapists who have experience working with children, are often able to get at the root of the child’s fears and offer suggestions that a parent may be unable to see. Most parents just want their children to be safe, happy and healthy. A child specialist wants these things too but they are less attached to the child than a parent and can therefore see the entire picture.
One of the amazing things that NeurOptimal, the type of neurofeedback training that I use does, is to help children (and adults) no longer fixate on a fear or an unpleasant thought. Whether there is a real or a perceived trauma, it is common for us to focus all of our attention there. Neurofeedback helps us become unstuck. The thoughts and obsessions that we’re used to focusing on, no longer have as much power after training. To learn more about neurofeedback, take a look at my website.
Most children (and adults) have fears. The power that we give to these fears effects how quickly children are able to move past them. The next time your child expresses a concern, notice how you respond. You may see that you already have these tools in place. If you don’t or you want some help, let me know.