Mental Health Florida

How to Help Children Cope in a Time of Crisis

It seems like we are constantly bombarded with pictures, videos, and “breaking news” of violence.  In a world where we try to keep our children safe, how do we convey they are still safe with all the negative images around them?  Although we cannot promise our children will always be safe, we can provide coping mechanisms to help them navigate through life.  It is vital that we teach them the value of emotional health.  Equally important, as parents we must take the time to commit to our own self-care in efforts to be the best parents we can be.

Teaching children about their emotional health should ideally occur early in life.  How early?  Some suggest preschool years as a start to understanding emotions and how to relate to others.  Teach children how to be kind to others, what to do if they are bullied, and how they can help if they see others being bullied.  The conversation about violence and how to cope with witnessing violence should happen at an early age, and this discussion needs to continue throughout a child’s life.  The talk will look differently as children age.  Also, when crisis situations and disasters happen around them, you can prepare them to be more emotionally prepared to deal with these situations.    

Youth also need a break from screen time.  Not only have some studies suggested benefits of screen breaks for mental health purposes, but it’s also important to remember that youth are inundated with pop-up ads, Instagram pictures, and Snapchat stories filled with violence.  Teens are often especially aware of current events, due to the power of social media.  So, for their sake, encourage them to take a break from the news feed.  Even as adults, it can be helpful for us to take a break from the constant violent content.

As a parent, you need to also think about your level of commitment to self-care in your life.  Saying “I’m too busy”, “I don’t have the money,” or some other excuse will only deter you from self-care goals.  Remember to get creative and think of your resources.  In efforts to cope with violence or disasters that occur, you must put yourself first and take care of YOU, that way you can show up as a strong force for your children.  It’s completely normal for children to see appropriate reactions – sadness, fear, grief, etc. in the face of an unexpected event.  Yet, we also must be emotionally available to help children heal from their painful emotions as well.  If there is an event that has become too emotionally difficult for you to deal with, consider reaching out the Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 (they are available 24/7/365).

There are additional resources to help in the conversation of coping with violence.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a fantastic resource, VetoViolence website, with a variety of resources available to understand violence in its various forms.  This website is a great tool whether you are a parent, teacher, clinician, research or serve in any another capacity to help the community. 

About the article contributor:

Dr. Nekeshia Hammond is the TV show host of Parenting Explained with Dr. Hammond, author, speaker, and owner of Hammond Psychology & Associates.  She regularly consults with the media on issues related to mental health.  To learn more, please visit: DrNekeshiaHammond.com.