How to Help Your Children Cope with Disaster
Updated: Apr 27
Have you been to the grocery store lately?
Adjusted hours. Bare shelves. Workers and customers wearing masks. It’s a sight to behold, and certainly not in a humorous way.
As you walk the aisles in search of toilet paper, do you ever wonder what all of this looks like through the eyes of your little ones?
Some of you and some of your children may have experienced large-scale disasters before. Large or small, far away or close to home, we’re all affected by tragedy—whether we recognize it or not. We live in a connected world and our children are growing up in the heart of it. Information and media are literally at their fingertips, delivering news at rates and in ways that we may not be totally aware of as parents.
When you’re not worrying about how to get yourself through this pandemic, you’re likely wondering how to help your children get through it.
And because you care about the emotional intelligence of your children, you’re probably trying to step out of the realm of “grin and bear it” and into the realm of resilience. The resilience that comes from emotional intelligence is something we want all children to experience.
So, where do we start?
Take Care of YOU
Can’t go on date night, take a walk with a friend, or even get your nails done anymore? How do you practice self-care in times of crisis?
While your favorite activities and escapes can be helpful, the core of emotional intelligence is all about emotional processing. Are you taking time to recognize how you feel? Are you giving yourself permission and time to work through these emotions?
We know you feel the heavy responsibility of taking care of you and your children at this time. And we’re not advising you to neglect your children.
We are saying that in order for you to be there for your children, you have to be there for yourself first.
Truth be told, an emotionally healthy parent is the best thing you can give your kids. And we all know that doesn’t happen through self-neglect.
Your children are constantly being exposed to the ideas and feelings of others. Slowly but surely, their perceptions are being created by games, TV shows, advertisements, your magazines and newspapers, and what their friends say.
While you can place boundaries around this, you can’t shelter your children from what’s going on outside—nor do you want to.
Instead of trying to control all the information that goes into their little brains, teach them how to process it.
More than anything, give them the positivity they need to counteract difficult or negative messaging. In order to do this, you need to be present with your kids. Spend more time with them. Ask them questions, listen, and seek to understand how they feel. Your physical and emotional presence is the stability they need.
Try to Maintain Normalcy
No more school, no more baseball practice, and no more play dates. Playgrounds are shut down. Your kids’ worlds are turned upside down, and they likely don’t know how to respond.
Give them the space to learn by maintaining as much normalcy as possible.
Was spaghetti dinner a Tuesday night tradition before all of this started? Do it this Tuesday. Did you go to church on Sundays? Have “church” with your kids at home on Sundays. If children can sense some kind of stability in their lives, they’ll have the emotional bandwidth to figure out how to respond to the rest.
Don’t Make False Assurances
“Dad, am I going to get sick?”
Most children will respond to times of uncertainty with blunt questions like this. But can you read between the lines? When your child asks this kind of question, they are using you as their emotional regulator. Will you help them recognize and validate their emotion, process the emotion, and manage the emotion?
Or will you put a bandaid on their fear with a false assurance?
You may be tempted to respond with a feel-good assurance such as, “No sweetheart, you will be fine.” You even have evidence to back it up. “Most people who get sick are old and have other health issues.”
While this response may be temporarily satisfying for a child, it doesn’t teach them how to process and manage their fear, nor does it send the message that they are capable of doing so.
Instead, try asking questions.
“Why are you afraid of getting sick?” “In your mind, what’s the worst thing that can happen if you get sick?” Why does that scare you?”
After encouraging your child to explore his emotions, try responding like this: “I don’t know, son. The likelihood of you getting it is small, but I can’t control or predict whether you get sick, and neither can you. We can do things to protect you, like wash your hands and make sure you take your vitamins. And if you do get sick, I’ll help you. You can still be happy, even if you feel afraid.”
Now’s a great time to pull out Wally Whale’s Mighty Tail to reinforce the lesson that happiness is a choice, despite the circumstance!
This is a hard time for all of us. And while stressful and uncertain, it is a beautiful opportunity to learn how to cope with disaster of any scale in an emotionally intelligent way. One day your children will be the independent processors and managers of their emotions. But right now, they are learning how to do it by watching and relying on you.