“Comfort in a Changing World”

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“I don’t like this!” This statement is one that children or youth might use during a heated game, when being asked to correct unwanted behavior or when plans change. For those children and youth who were looking forward to milestones like field days, end of school year celebrations, prom, or graduation, they have reason to believe that life can be sad, frustrating, and difficult.

The question is how do we, as nurturing adults, help young people cope with these emotions and equip them with the skills they need to be caring, connected, and capable adults? Any loss for a child or youth, such as a failing an exam, death of a pet, changes in family structure, or events from a disaster, can lead to a wide variety of feelings such as disappointment, sadness, loneliness, or anger. These feelings are common reactions to such experiences.

As caring adults, we can do the following to help young people cope.

Acknowledge feelings and allow youth to talk about their feelings and concerns. Let youth know that it is okay to be sad, scared or confused. Identifying and naming a feeling can be very helpful in trying to understand and make meaning of a situation.

Be a calm and reassuring presence. Remind youth that over time things will get better.

Help youth form positive coping skills by setting a healthy example of how to manage feelings like grief, anxiety, fear, or sadness. Teach young people that exercising, meditation, writing in a journal, engaging in a favorite hobby like art, cooking, gardening, or sewing are healthy ways to work through disappointment, loss, and grief.

Expressing gratitude for things that make life enjoyable is another way teach positive coping skills.

Create an environment where youth can interact with their peers. Using video conferencing, having telephone conversations, or writing letters are ways of connecting with peers. These connections can be helpful ways to provide emotional support for youth, especially for adolescents.

Simply, listen. If ever youth need adults to listen, it is now. Being able to talk about an experience can support making meaning of a situation which is an important part of grieving. Remember you don’t have to have all the answers. Silence is okay. Youth just need to know you care.

Sometime life can be difficult, unfair, and painful. While adults cannot prevent or change all these experiences, they can play a significant role in helping young people cultivate and practice skills that give them the ability to develop resiliency or the ability to overcome hardship. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University recommends that adults build supportive adult-child relationships to strengthen a young person’s resiliency. Taking the time to listen and communicate with young people, being a positive example of healthy coping skills, and simply just being a calming reassuring presence are action steps that adults can implement now. As adults, let’s take the time to prepare young people to become caring, connected, and capable adults.

For more information and resources about youth social emotional development in difficult times can be found at https://disaster.unl.edu/families , by contacting your local county Nebraska Extension office or emailing TLC@unl.edu.

DR. MICHELLE KREHBIEL, NEBRASKA EXTENSION 4-H YOUTH DEVELOPMENT, | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

Peer Reviewed by Linda Reddish, and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educators

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Helping Children Cope With Severe Storms

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What Do Parents Need To Know?

The more parents encourage their children to talk about severe weather, the better children will feel. Start talking to them right away: When a storm is on the way, after the storm has passed, and time and time again afterwards. Children need to keep talking about their experiences. It is how all of us make sense out of things as human beings.

Children sometimes become the lost souls of a family in crisis. Adults can get so caught up in their own feelings that they don’t realize how emotional and difficult the experience is for children. Also, sometimes adults think it’s better to keep quiet and avoid stirring things up with the kids. But kids are aware that the adults in their lives are dealing with powerful emotions. They know something is happening and it’s important. They may not always get the facts straight, but they’re aware of the tension adults are experiencing. If adults don’t address difficult issues, the children will have to carry this burden all alone. They may feel it’s their fault. Adults need to be aware of what children feel and think, to listen to them, and talk openly and honestly with them.

If unsure where to start, try using the questions below to help get the child(ren) to start talking. This will be an ongoing process: Adults don’t get this figured out in one conversation and neither do children. It may not be easy for adults to discuss this over and over, but it is necessary to help the kids work through their fears and anxieties.

What did you see? How did you feel about it? How did you deal with it? What did you learn from it?

Activities That Can Help Children Cope

  • Have children talk to grandparents or parents and tape record or write down their storm-related stories.
  • Have toys such as fire trucks, ambulances, building blocks, puppets and dolls available that encourage play reenactment of children’s experiences and observations.
  • Children need close physical contact during times of stress to help them feel a sense of belonging and security. Structured children’s games that involve physical touching are helpful in this regard; for example, Ring Around the Rosie; London Bridge; Duck, Duck, Goose; and so forth.
  • Have the children do a mural on long paper or draw pictures about the storm focusing on what happened in their house or neighborhood when the big storm hit. Adults should help discuss these drawings afterwards.
  • When adults share their own feelings, fears and experiences, it legitimizes children’s feelings and helps them feel less isolated. If adults were afraid, then it’s OK for children to be afraid, also.
  • Adults need to admit when they don’t know the answers to questions. Find out the answers and let the children know what they are.
  • Explain to children that disasters are very unpredictable, and may cause things to happen that can even trouble adults. Even so, adults will always work very hard to keep children safe and secure.

Know When To Make Referrals

The following list of behaviors could indicate a child may need qualified professional help to deal with the storm-related stress. When the child:

  • demonstrates the desire to hurt himself or herself or others;
  • repeatedly expresses himself or herself in somber or self-deprecating terms;
  • starts to rely on dark colors and themes in artwork;
  • continues to act out aggressively or violently;
  • becomes more immature or too mature;
  • repeatedly wants to be alone;
  • sets fires or commits other destructive acts; and
  • deliberately and repeated harms animals.
Leanne Manning, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

This post was previously published as a PDF in 2005 for NebFact. It was originally written by Manning and is used with her permission.

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