Children and crisis

Children may not express grief and shock the same way as adults, therefore making it difficult for parents or other people close to the child to understand how the child experiences the crisis. Nevertheless, children experience the same kind of feelings of emptiness, confusion, grief, rage and disbelief as adults do after a tragic incident. More than anything, children need adult presence and support in difficult, stressful situations. 

Maintain routines

Children in crisis need security and routines. In order to restore their sense of security, it is important to maintain the old routines, i.e. to eat and go to sleep at the same time as before and to have the same hobbies they had before the incident causing the crisis. In addition to routines, children will need a lot of company. 

Answer a child's questions about the incident (taking into consideration the age of the child)

The event that triggered the crisis should be discussed with the child. At the same time, one should make sure the child understands that the incident is real; potential misunderstandings should be corrected. Euphemistic metaphors should be avoided when talking with children; for example, death should not be referred to as falling asleep. Children may not understand the metaphor and, depending on the used metaphor, they may begin to fear falling asleep or think that the deceased will return.

Questions asked by children should be answered truthfully, keeping the age of the child in mind. You can ask children how they are feeling, and explain that the strange behaviour of adults is caused by grief. When the child knows why the adults are crying or reacting to the crisis in some other way, the child will understand that he/she, too, has the right to express his/her feelings. Children should be encouraged to ask if something is bothering or worrying them.

Allow different kinds of feelings and reactions

A child should know that it is natural to react to the tragic event in different ways. You can tell the child that he/she may have strange thoughts and that he/she may feel different than before. The child should know that these strange feelings are a part of the event and that processing these feelings is painful but necessary. The child needs to know that feelings of grief and joy may alternate.

Children may present various reactions long after the actual incident. The crisis may present itself as poor achievements in school or as restlessness in class. The situation should be discussed with the teachers.

Children often process difficult issues through play. This is especially helpful if there are no specific words for the feelings the child is experiencing; adults close to the child may then use play as a means for discussing the matter with the child. For example, writing a diary, taking pictures, drawing or other arts and crafts may help the child in handling his/her negative feelings.