Four Techniques for Supporting the Kids in Your Life
Right now, a lot of things seem uncertain. As we engage in important national conversations about systemic racism and make assessments about public health, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. For the kids in your life, things may feel even more confusing. Andrew Farmer, Great Circle’s manager for trauma-informed services training in the Southwest Region, offers insight for helping children adjust, and even build resilience, during unpredictable times.
- Use concrete language.
It’s important to remember that kids under 12 aren’t typically abstract thinkers. “They know what’s happening in front of them,” Farmer says. So while you’re envisioning all the fun things you’ll do when life is more “normal,” the kids in your life may assume the current reality is how things will always be. Instead of saying, “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” speak in concrete terms about what you do know. When kids believe the adults in their lives know what’s going on, they feel safer.
- Praise their resilience.
It’s okay to be honest when the details aren’t clear. Just be sure to affirm that — whatever the challenges — you believe your kids can handle them. Farmer suggests reminding them of previous times they adjusted to new people or experiences. “You can reinforce their strengths,” he says, “by telling them, ‘You’ve always been able to learn and do well.’”
- Get moving.
When kids feel traumatized, they may respond in unexpected ways. For example, they might shut down, becoming very quiet, or they might react irritably to small inconveniences that never bothered them before. Either way, they may not be able to tell you what’s wrong. Instead of forcing a conversation, suggest activities that will engage their senses, such as a neighborhood walk, bike ride or quick basketball game. “Sensory activities relax stress,” Farmer says. “Kids then feel safer to talk and share.”
- Take care of yourself.
Guiding your family through your everyday might be even more challenging now that anxieties are mounting over health and racial injustice. In times of stress, Farmer says, “Make sure you’re getting your cup filled. We need healthy people to take care of others.” As you care for all the people in your life, reserve a special place in your circle of compassion — just for you.