The kidnapping of a 6-year-old boy has sent shockwaves throughout the country and shattering our sense of security and trust.
In times of crisis, it’s important to re-establish a child’s sense of security and trust. When talking to your children, it’s most important to remember that you are the parent. Your children need you to be calm, and provide a safe environment for them to explore and express their own feelings. They need to know you’ll be there to care for them and to guide them through their fears and grief. Your children learn from your behaviour and actions.
It is also important that you take care of yourself. Do not hesitate to talk with other family members or friends about the grief and sadness you may be feeling. It is okay to let your children know that you are also feeling sad – acknowledging powerful feelings opens the door for them to tell you about their own sadness and fears. Let them express themselves in their own way – acts of healing such as drawing, writing letters, singing or painting are important for children. As you begin to understand your child’s unique needs, you can better help them deal with their own feelings.
What parents can do to help re-store their child’s sense of security and trust:
- Be honest about the situation. Give your children information that they can comprehend and put it into context. Typically, when a child asks a question, he is more than likely ready for an answer.
- Explain that even though frightening things happen once in a while, most children go about their day with no harm.Don’t describe unlikely scenarios that would unnecessarily frighten your children.
- Make it your business to know what information your child is getting. Monitor their exposure to television, and be with them to explain what they are seeing and answer their questions. Ask them what they are hearing at school and give them factual information to dispel rumours they are hearing from others. Communicate with daycare providers, teachers, school counselors and administrators when necessary to share information about how your child is coping and to get additional helpful information or direction.
- Limit how much time they spend watching violent movies, videos, or computer games. The impact of violence on children is cumulative and they may experience flashbacks.
- Be aware that behavioural impacts at different ages occur because children of varying ages react differently. Younger children may show more separation anxiety when their parents leave them at daycare or school. Older children may present a rough exterior or aggressive behaviour.
- Provide extra emotional support for your children. Review safety precautions and practice routines to get to and from school with them. Teach your children that they should go to a safe adult if they ever feel threatened in any situation.
- Avoid infecting your children’s lives with your own anxiety. Feeling overwhelmed by anxiety caused by traumatic events? Take steps to deal with your own feelings by talking to a trusted friend or counselor, meditating, praying or participating in some other activity before your children are affected.
- Some children have other factors in their lives that may make them especially fearful. Children who have experienced a traumatic incident in the past, children who are grieving a personal tragedy, and children who are ill are all more susceptible to anxiety.
- Give your child personal reassurance. Tell them what you are doing to ensure their safety, what their daycare provider or teacher is doing to maintain safety, and what they can do to enhance their own safety.
- Don’t overdo it. Try to maintain as much of the normal routines (e.g. meals, play, bedtime) as possible. Keep an eye open for any signs of anxiety or regressive behaviour (thumb sucking, bedwetting, being more clingy or whiny) etc.).
Help Your Child Build Emotional Resiliency:
Be sure to show affection toward your children (extra kisses, big bear hugs). Tell them how important they are to you and to your community. Reassure them that you will always love them. Your family rituals can really help create a true sense of comfort and belonging. Explaining your rituals to your children can make a real difference. For example, you can say, “Before we leave in the morning I always give you a kiss & tell you I love you. Let’s keep doing that.”
Providing your children with love, understanding and support can be one of the greatest gifts you give them.