Preparing to Support Youngsters During Turbulent Times
By: Barbara Oehlberg
In this time of increased turbulence in our very unpredictable world, children and youth can easily become overwhelmed with anxiety and insecurity. Since adults may be focused on these same issues, children's need for assurances of being safe can go undetected by parents teachers and the community.
The primary need of children in times of stress is to feel safe; both emotionally and physically. They often are personally unaware of their own anxiety and therefore are unable to articulate it. Children and youth, however, are naturally and exceptionally capable of communicating such distress behaviorally, sometimes even with risky behaviors as they struggle with feeling helpless.
Youngsters will require sustained sensitivity from adults during the possible juncture in timing of fear, associated with international hostilities and the stress related to taking proficiency tests. Children who have experienced previous shocking losses or vulnerabilities will present even greater levels of stress and anxiety.
During stress-generating times, children and/or students require adults to practice keen. Observation and alertness to the following range of diverse behaviors:
What can parents, teachers, & officials do?
- asking endless questions or shutting down / silence.
- jumping from activity to activity or lethargy.
- terse and irritable or endless joking / clowning
- reaching out affection or wanting none
- unable to focus or driven concentration
- eating / sleeping troubles or cool as a cucumber
- Generate opportunities to focus on the many caring people in family, community, and nation who devote their time and energy to maintaining or restoring security. Avoid advising youngster not to worry; affirm their concerns (if they express them) and allow them to draw their own deduction of feeling secure. Ask them what they would like to see happen so all children might feel. Be safe and just listen!
- Generate opportunities for youngsters to participate in creative projects using art, music, prose or journaling.
- Introduce books/stories based on overcoming helplessness, injustices, or an imbalance of power.
- Provide opportunities to experience a sense of renewal and / or constancy by:
- Planting seeds in containers
- Planting tree seedlings
- Hatching chicks, ducklings or butterflies
- Clean up / restore natural habitats
- Invite or visit local public officials to generate school / community projects that can make a difference by righting a wrong or reaching out to the vulnerable / confined.
- Set up "buddy partners" between elementary and preschool / kindergarten students, middle school and elementary students, student / children of any grade and residents of shelters for the elderly.