July 25, 2015

How To Support Your Children Through Crisis, Natural Disasters and Tragedies

This topic was challenging to write about and that is why I chose to put it into words. Not only is it unfortunately relevant, but as a mother myself, I realized the need to inform others. How can we best support our children during challenging times? When we support others, we must also be in a parallel process of supporting ourselves.

1. Practice Adaptability

Children are born with the ability to adapt and be flexible. This fluid approach is valuable to support a child through a crisis, natural disaster and tragedy. Adults often fear change and yet life is about evolving. Does this mean that people fear life? In my ten years of work as a drama therapist, I have experienced that people fear what they cannot control or predict.

The saying: “we are creatures of habit” helps us to make sense of our year, months, days, hours and minutes. Our egos view time as something that belongs to “us” and we grow resentful when we feel someone has “wasted” our precious time. The truth is that time does not belong to us. We don’t own it. We are a part of it.

2. Practice Acceptance in the Moment

Acceptance is the first step to any kind of change. When we accept the uncontrollable nature of the unknown, we grow more empowered and resilient to adapt accordingly. As an actor and a drama therapist, I am trained to live in the unknown. Actors respond to each other in the moment and to the reactions of the audience.

Similarly, as a therapist, I do not fixate on a plan. One powerful piece of advice from a mentor of mine is: YOU are enough. I struggled with this concept out my desire to control moments. I encourage you to accept that YOU too are enough, even in times when you think you are not.

3. Accept What You Don’t Want to Acknowledge

Accept the world’s darkness as well as light. When we accept the dark parts of ourselves, we can have compassion for situations and our children during difficult times. The truth is, we all have internalized fears, like our fear of change and the unknown. Fear is the root of anger, resentment, vulnerability, bitterness, pain, and suffering. Our children need us to accept our fears for them to fully experience theirs.

4. Provide Physical and Emotional Support

Children who experience trauma may develop somatic symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and muscle pains. They may regress and act younger as a way to seek attention and avoid suffering. Support them with your loving affection and by modeling emotional intelligence through validating their experience.

5. Allow the Present Moments to Guide Your Actions

When you stay present with your own thoughts, feelings and the needs of others, you allow your intuition and insight to guide your next specific action. Being present and responding to our children is vital on a moment-to-moment basis. This skill is even more important to practice during times of crisis and tragedy.

6. Have Compassion and Hope

After we accept our fears within the present moment, we then must challenge ourselves to have compassion for others and ourselves. Through darkness, hope prevails. Even in tragedy, crisis, and a natural disaster hope will emerge as a result of our community and nation’s responsive actions. Teach your child about having compassion and hope, even in times of darkness.

7. Focus on “Being” not Doing

Instead of highlighting what anyone should “do” in times of crisis, a natural disaster, or crisis I encourage you to focus on “being”. Children need us to be present and supportive of their fears. Share your feelings about the difficult situation and allow the next moment of action to come from your not knowing. Work through the discomfort with your child. When you respond as a human “being” not a human “doing” it sends a positive message to our children that THEY are enough.

8. Speak a Child’s Language: Creation

The same way that adults use words to communicate, children communicate through play, art, music, and dance. During traumatic times, children have a vital need to express their experience in non-verbal ways. Give them the space and encourage them to do so. I was a part of an evidence-based creative arts therapy program for a number of years, serving children exposed to domestic violence.

Quantitative research proved that the children who completed the program decreased in their trauma related symptoms such as: anger and anxiety. Children who have experienced trauma benefit greatly from engaging in the creative arts to express their pain safely. Evidence shows that when individuals do not express themselves they are prone to projecting their pain onto others, themselves and the world. Create with your child and learn to speak their language.

About the author

Brooke CampbellBrooke Campbell is the Founder and Director of Creative Kinections, LLC with locations in New York City and New Jersey.  She is a licensed creative arts therapist, registered-board certified drama therapist, professional actor, director, and writer.  Brooke recently contributed a chapter for a book about trauma and drama therapy, which is pending publication.  Brooke holds a Masters in Drama Therapy from New York University.  As an actor, she is a proud member of the Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and Actors’ Equity Association.




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