As much as we’d like to protect our children from the harsh realities of today’s world, we cannot keep them in a bubble, as this would leave them completely defenceless and overwhelmed when it bursts. Coping strategies, just like social skills, are not innate abilities that will suddenly appear in puberty. They are learned through interaction with others and the world, and are built over time through modelling, practice and learning from mistakes.
Parents may be alarmed at the thought of coaching children for every possible disaster they may face, but this is not practical or necessary. Be proactive by altering the way you manage feelings on a daily basis within your home, and when a crisis emerges be as honest as possible about what has occurred. Your children will react to your reactions, and if the emotional groundwork is in place you can provide them with a sense of safety even if you don’t feel in control yourself.
People become overwhelmed in crisis situations because of intense emotional reactions to what they are experiencing. Help your children to learn that emotions are natural reactions to experiences and that the feelings themselves are not the disaster. Too often we try and remove the feeling because we feel uncomfortable watching our child in discomfort. We may say, “Don’t cry, come, do you want an ice cream?” This teaches children to view their emotions as unwanted and unacceptable, something to erase or deny rather than live through, increasing the sense of panic in a crisis when these feelings are strongest. (It also creates adults who head for the fridge every time they feel uncomfortable!) Build emotional awareness by reflecting your child’s feelings back at them as if you were a mirror (“that makes you really sad”) and ignore the urge to rescue them from the feeling. This teaches them that feelings are normal, acceptable and survivable, freeing them to focus on a strategy.