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Fostering Resilience in Children During Times of Crisis

By: Krystal Draughn, LCSW

Children’s beliefs about the world as a safe and predictable place have been altered due to the current pandemic. Schools have been closed, activities have been canceled, and parents have had to scramble and adjust to this “new normal,” leaving children at a loss and more frequently having to fend for themselves.

The following is an excerpt from the New York University Child Center Study, Caring for Kids After Trauma, Disaster, and Death: A Guide for Parents and Professionals (2006) and offers a guide of characteristics related to building and fostering resilience in children, along with the different ways you can help your child cope and foster resilience. It should be noted that children do not need to exhibit all the factors listed below in order to effectively cope with adversity.

“Some children can emerge from horrific life experiences with several strengths or resilient attributes. Resilience is a set of beliefs, feelings, and behaviors following adversity in which children and adults successfully adapt to challenging and threatening situations and their aftermath. Resilience is not a trait that individuals either have or do not have. It can be fostered, learned, and shaped through experiences. It is shaped by individual differences and recovery responses by the immediate environment.

Good relationships: Caring, supportive, and strong relationships with family members and friends foster resilience in children.

Positive outlook: Children who have hope and a positive outlook about the future are more likely to effectively cope with adversity.

Optimism: Children who are able to cope with adversity maintain an optimistic outlook.

Self-confidence and positive self-view: Resilient children believe in themselves, their skills and their ability to take control of their lives and situations.

Decisive: Children with resilient traits tend to be proactive and take control of their situations. They make decisions for themselves and take steps to carry them out.

Goal-oriented: Children with resilient traits are able to develop realistic goals and effectively reach their goals. They are proactive in taking steps toward accomplishing their goals.

Persistent: Children who work hard at accomplishing tasks and completing goals are more likely to be resilient at stressful times.

Frustration tolerance: Resilient children are able to cope with frustrating circumstances and tolerate frustrating and upsetting situations. They are able to manage strong feelings and impulses.

Acceptance of the Past: Resilient children are able to accept that events in the past cannot be changed.

Realistic: Even when faced with a stressful event, resilient children consider the stressful situation in context and avoid blowing things out of proportion. These children are able to keep things in perspective.

Pay attention to their needs and feelings: They ask for help and talk about their feelings and experiences. They also engage in activities that they enjoy and find relaxing.

TIPS FOR HELPING CHILDREN COPE AND FOSTERING RESILIENCE

Below are some tips for adults to help children and adolescents cope following a crisis event:

Maintain a secure and predictable environment.

Be aware of recommendations from security experts regarding ways to insure children’s safety. Secure and predictable environments will enable children to spend their time on the main tasks of childhood: playing, learning and growing.

Help children establish and maintain a close relationship with an adult.

Under even the harshest circumstances, children do well when they have a relationship with at least one supportive, caring and accepting adult, who frequently spends time with them. 

Be sure that children and teens know techniques to calm themselves.

Give children and adolescents the opportunity to relax through play, discussions, art activities, music or physical comforting and exercise. Exercise, muscle relaxation techniques, deep breathing exercises and using calm mental images are techniques proven to reduce stress.

Help children understand the statistical probability of tragedy and disaster.

We have a tendency to believe events that have a great impact on our lives happen with greater frequency than they really do. For example,  as horrific as the 9/11 event was for our nation, many people aboard airplanes on September 11 returned to the ground safely, the vast majority of people in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not physically harmed and buildings in cities in areas throughout the United States were not damaged.

Watch for negative reactions and provide interventions.

Although an original event may be long past, psychological reactions can be delayed. In fact, people often do not experience problematic reactions until three months after an event. Be on the alert for anger and aggression, or anxiety reactions manifested as chronic irritability, persistent worries about safety for themselves and others, avoidance of situations that arouse anxiety and diminished concentration on usual activities.

Keep children informed, discuss the facts, and limit news coverage.

Information filters down to children, even in preschool settings, through overheard conversations, news reports, and discussions among older children. Providing children with basic facts, an understanding of the real statistical probability of disaster and reassurance are ways to help children cope during frightening and potentially traumatic times.

Help children establish a set of values to guide their actions.

Children who base their actions on values suffer less from depression and anxiety than others.

Help children develop a positive outlook for the future.

Children who believe that negative events are temporary can take steps to make their future better. It is important that caretakers help children develop a sense of self-efficacy and belief in their ability to effectively deal with stress.

Take care of your own physical and mental health.

Children need adults who are available, supportive, calm, and as mentally and physically healthy as possible. Children look to adults for support, guidance, and reassurance.”

Kooplewicz, Harold S., Marylene Cloitre. (2006). Fostering Resilience. Caring for Kids after Trauma, Disaster and Death: A Guide for Parents and Professionals (pp. 29-32). New York University Child Study Center.

Information on this page should be utilized as a guide, not as medical advice. If you feel you need to speak with someone regarding counseling or mental health, please contact Psychology & Counseling to make an appointment.

At Psychology & Counseling, we offer counseling and mental health assessments. Following diagnosis, we work with you to determine the best course of treatment and counseling for you. If you would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at (601) 261-1650.