Make your own family’s “Day of Listening” to both record
family stories and for everyone to practice their listening skills.
Here are some family games that help sharpen listening
Using everyday items, you can incorporate hidden sounds into
a family game. Challenge family members to listen for, draw, and repeat a
series of common sounds. It’s amazing how much everyone tunes out the sounds
Collect everyday objects such as a stapler, book,
paper, kitchen tools or toys and place in a plastic bin or cardboard box.
Be sure to have a variety of items on hand to make
noise with. Take turns making organizing a set number of these. For
example, a series might include banging a book on the desk, bouncing a
small ball, stomping your foot, clapping your hands, stapling papers,
whistling, clicking keyboard keys, or shaking a bag of Lego blocks.
After dinner, have everyone at the table listen for
sounds made only by the designated “sound engineer.”
Every time a new sound is made, everyone should draw
a picture of the item that made the sound.
After all the sounds are made, share everyone’s lists,
pass around the items drawn and recreate the series of sounds in order. Celebrate
everyone’s listening success and laugh about the sounds no one got.
The Last Word
Multi-tasking is an essential element of effective
listening. Similar to a common improvisation activity, this game challenges
students to listen to classmates while also preparing a relevant statement in
their head. Small or large groups can easily play ‘The Last Word.’
Choose a topic such as in the jungle,
prehistoric life, an episode of a TV show, or a new pop song.
Select an order by handing out numbers or base
your order on the seating arrangements.
The first player must walk to the front of the
room and say one sentence that relates to the chosen topic.
The next player must immediately walk to the
front of the room and say one sentence that starts with the last word said by
the player immediately before them.
Play continues until all students have had a
turn. If a student is unable to come up with an appropriate sentence within ten
seconds, he is out of the game.
Game play continues in this fashion until there
is only one person left and he is the winner.
Instead of playing 20 Questions on your next car trip. start
a story where one person starts a story with a single sentence. Each person
adds a new sentence, but only after repeating all of the previous sentences.
Check out this list of 15 Activities to Build Listening Skills:
Glitter Jars are magical, especially when trying to shift attention away from thoughts and emotions, the basic goal of all mindful practices. Whenever we bring awareness to what we are experiencing with our senses, we are being mindful. When we do this simple act, our minds calm down. This is a jar filled with water, clear gel glue, and ultra-fine glitter. You shake it and the glitter settles slowly, which is very relaxing to watch, providing something to focus on in order to relax.
A clean empty water bottle, with label removed, that will fit in your child’s hands
Clear gel glue
Fill the bottle about 3/4 of the way with hot water, then add a bottle of glitter glue and a small tube of glitter.
Screw on the cap and play with the mixture until it takes about five minutes (our standard time out time!) for the glitter to settle at the bottom of the bottle. Add more clear gel glue to make it go slower or more water to make it settle faster.
Super glue the cap onto the water bottle so it can’t come off in your child’s hands.
Coping Skills for Managing Emotions is a useful guide for helping a parent reflect and respond to a child’s emotional outburst. These tables provide helpful cues and responses.
When care givers…
This helps …
Don’t say anything. Watch first. Pay attention to the situation. What was the build up? (e.g., what happened before the child displayed their emotion?). Watch for facial expressions, tone of voice and posture, as well as listening to what the child is saying to get a complete picture.
Older children need coaching to help them learn how to manage their emotions. Don’t fall into the habit of being the solution to your child’s problems, your role is to coach them:
When you child is calm, sit down with him to label and validate what he is feeling. Listen, don’t judge what they are feeling. Try to reflect and restate what he is telling you so that you show that you understand what he has said.
Don’t mistake validating his feelings with accepting his behavior. You have to deal with bad behavior. While you want to let your child know that what he is feeling is okay, you can’t accept or condone his actions, especially if they have hurt someone else. “I see that you’re angry and frustrated. I can understand that, but you can’t take it out on your sister.”
Brainstorm with your child ways that he might solve the problem that upset him. Include talking about ways to prevent or avoid the situation in the future. Remind him of ways to “step back” from his emotions and not let them control his actions. Help him to break big problems into more manageable parts. Remember that you are the coach here; don’t step in and manage what he does. Support his efforts, cheer on his incremental progress, be there when he stumbles, and celebrate his accomplishment when he resolves the problem, even if it isn’t a completely happy outcome. He needs to know that the process of working it out can be as important as the result.
Acknowledge his growth when he next faces a similar problem and handles it better. You’re the cheerleader as well as the coach.
Communications are key to giving your child the skills needed to emotional regulation :
Make time for talking with and listening to each other. Family meals, time outside together and care rides are some opportunities for these conversations.
Don’t skip talking about hard or negative emotions. Be open about the full range of feelings and give your child the vocabulary to express everything he feels. Make sure he knows that it’s okay to have bad or negative feelings and that in your family, no one judges what anyone else feels. By talking about feelings, he’ll learn the difference between feeling something and talking about it. Books, television and movies, the nightly news, and family reminiscences all present opportunities to have these conversations and develop words to describe feelings at a safe distance from what your child may be feeling, especially if those feelings are especially strong.
Pay attention to body language and non-verbal messages. These cues may be your opening to start a conversation about what your child may be feeling at the moment and ways to respond to and manage those emotions.
Work together to solve problems. Working together on building or fixing something is a good way to teach a lesson about frustration that isn’t burdened by emotional baggage. Next time you’re ready to scream at the computer or remote, ask your child to explain the solution to you, to help you solve your problem. She may be the calm and rational one in the family at that moment. If your child is doing something that makes you crazy, sit down with her and make a plan.
Practical Steps for learning skills for Managing Your Feelings, includes material from The Self-Esteem Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Build Confidence and Achieve Your Goals by Lisa M. Schab, LCSW.
Taking care of your physical health enables you to cope better with mental distress and emotional challenges. The acronym PLEASE Master can remind us what we can do regularly in order to keep ourselves healthy and stable.
Treat Physical Illness (take care of yourself both physically and mentally) Eat healthy (diet, especially sugar, affects your mood and can cause mood swings) Avoid mood-altering substances (don’t use alcohol or drugs in response to emotional distress) Sleep well (practice good habits: no electronics before bed, limiting caffeine) Exercise regularly: walking or stretching for 15 minutes in the morning or evening counts even if you’re not a gym rat.
Master: Do something daily (outside of your job or family responsibilities) that gives you a sense of achievement or ability.
Strategies for Controlling Anger: It can be hard to harness anger and keep it from getting out of control. These strategies aren’t about how you handle the anger when you’re feeling it, but setting yourself up to better respond to the feeling.
Learn how to identify warning signs your body gives you, like suddenly your muscles tense, your breathing quickens, or it feels like your blood pressure jumps higher. Now’s the time to use the relaxation technique you’ve been practicing. Step away when you begin to get annoyed or frustrated. Take a time-out. Calm yourself before engaging.
Let go. Don’t dwell on what made you mad. Learn to recognize and avoid the triggers to your anger.
Think differently, Focus on solutions, actions, flexibility. Think before you speak. Use humor to release tension. Use “I-statements” to talk about what made you angry.
Take care of yourself: relax, this includes getting enough exercise. Use the relaxation/mindfulness technique that works for you: deep breathing, relaxing imagery, progressive muscle relaxation.
Sharpen your communication game: listen before reacting–make sure you understand what someone is saying; before speaking then pause to think through what you want to say, then take a breath before you say anything. Make the conversation about the issue not the feeling.
Don’t go it alone. Know when to get help, whether it is turning to someone you trust or a professional.
Homework for becoming a more positive thinker:
Think about how your mind may race when you’ve got a few minutes to spare – sitting in your in the car-pool line or at the corner waiting for school bus to drop-off your child. Are you replaying the feedback you got at work from your boss, or the argument at breakfast that morning? If you focus your awareness on the present moment, feeling each breath, how the sun or drizzle feels on your skin, or how the ground feels under your feet, you are detaching your mental energies from your usual preoccupations.
By working these muscles routinely, when faced with an upsetting situation or confrontation, you will be able to respond from a position of better well-being, a position of strength; the kind of strength that allows you to draw on your inner resources not in an impulsive, emotional way, but in a manner that will allow for a resolution where everyone comes out a winner.
This may not come naturally, and you learn to do it by repeating the effort; think of the movie “Groundhog Day” as a kind of metaphor for working toward developing this kind of mental refocusing.
Be present. Don’t multitask – that means put the phone on mute and put all electronic devices away.
Re-set your own mind to assume that you can learn something from the conversation.
Show that you are listening: use non-verbal signs to show that you are listening: make eye contact; sit or stand facing the person, give them your full attention.
Give cues along the way: nod your head, smile in encouragement, or say “un-huh,” “wow,” “oh” or by repeating something the other person has said, restating it to show that you heard and understand. You can also echo what they say to show you understand: “it sounds like you are still upset.”
Ask open-ended questions. Use who, what, where, when, or how. Ask “What was that like?” instead of “Was that terrible?” or “How are you feeling?” instead of “Are you still angry?” Ask questions that seek to make clear what the person is telling you.
Summarize what the person has said. This demonstrates that you heard what was said and allows the other person to clarify any misunderstanding.
Show that you hear what the other person is saying. You don’t have to agree, but it’s important to acknowledge that you understand what the person is saying.
A simple outline for teaching your teen responsible decision-making:
Define the goal or outcome
Ask how to achieve the goal
Help them to implement their plan
Assess together whether the strategy is working
Tips for listening without judgment:
Ask your teen to define the problem rather than telling them what you see as the problem.
If the problem is a big one (I hate my life!), help to break it down into something manageable and tangible (I don’t have any fun plans for this weekend.)
Ask what is the problem.
Brainstorm solutions. The key to brainstorming is that there is not wrong answer. Just let all the ideas flow for five minutes, then evaluate the ideas and eliminate those that don’t work.
You, as the parent, are the one with the better developed executive functioning. Have follow-up conversations to make sure your teen is taking action. Discuss any modifications to the original plan. Praise your teen’s efforts. Keep the conversation going until each party is satisfied. There is a difference between win-win and compromise.
Trans fat is considered by many doctors to be the worst type of fat you can eat. Some meat and dairy products contain small amounts of naturally occurring trans-fat. But most trans fat is formed through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, which causes the oil to become solid at room temperature. Get in the habit of reading ingredients labels when you’re at the grocery store.
Trans fat can be found in many of the same foods as saturated fat. These can include:
Crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies, and other baked goods
Refrigerated dough products (such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls)
Snack foods (such as microwave popcorn)
Vegetable shortenings and stick margarines
Instead, try these healthier alternatives:
Unsaturated fats, such as butter, but in much smaller amounts.
Substitute saturated vegetable fats, including palm and coconut oils.
Use a blend of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated vegetable oils to get the shelflife, taste, and texture of trans-
How to Incorporate More Whole Grains at Meals
To eat more whole grains, substitute a whole-grain product for a refined product:
Use whole-wheat bread instead of white bread for sandwiches.
Substitute brown rice instead of white rice.
Whole Wheat Pasta instead of White Pasta. There are a number of different varieties available, each with different texture and taste.
Prepare mixed dishes with whole grains, such as:
Barley in vegetable soup or stews.
Bulgur wheat in a casserole or stir-fry.
Whole-grain bread or cracker crumbs in meatloaf.
Rolled oats or a crushed, unsweetened whole grain cereal as breading for baked chicken, fish, veal cutlets, or eggplant Parmesan.
Try substituting whole wheat or oat flour for up to half of the flour in pancake, waffle, muffin or other flour-based recipes. There are many recipes and cookbooks available that substitute healthier flours for white flour.
Try an unsweetened, whole grain ready-to-eat cereal as croutons in salad or in place of crackers with soup.
Freeze leftover cooked brown rice, bulgur, or barley. Heat and serve it later as a quick side dish.
Tips for Adding More Vegetables to Your Family’s Diet
Buy fresh vegetables in season. It is most cost effective and they are likely to be at their peak flavor.
Stock up on frozen vegetables for quick and easy cooking in the microwave.
Buy vegetables that are easy to prepare. Pick up pre-washed bags of salad greens and add baby carrots or grape tomatoes for a salad in minutes.
Prepare and cut your veggies such as baby carrots or celery sticks in the beginning of the week so you can grab them for quick snacks.
Use a microwave to quickly warm up your vegetables. White or sweet potatoes can be prepared quickly this way.
Try crunchy vegetables, raw or lightly steamed.
Add grated or chopped vegetables to meatloaf, burgers or pasta sauces.
Choose a time of day where distractions will be limited.
Turn off your phone. Better yet, leave it in other room, turned off.
Find a quiet place where you can sit without being disturbed. Try to always meditate in the same place.
Close your eyes, it’s easiest to meditate without a lot of external distraction. Sitting in the same spot helps you become committed to your meditation setting.
During meditation, stick with a natural breath, but remember that it can be helpful from time to time to mindfully soften, deepen, or elongate your breath.
Start small with five minutes of meditation each day. Just as you would need to build up your endurance to run for long distances, you need to train yourself to meditate. Over time, try working your way up to 20-40 minutes by increase your time in small increments until you reach a length of time that feels right to you and works with your lifestyle.
Using the Theory of Multiple Intelligences to Understand Your Child’s Learning Style
It can be helpful to think about how your child learns when getting organized for school. Howard Gardner, in Frames of Mind. The Theory of Multiple Intelligences describes intelligence not as a single measurable quality, but a more complex array of ways of thinking and processing information. Individuals don’t just have one kind of intelligence, but these categories are a helpful guide for understanding your child’s own learning style and helping you to figure out what you can do at home to facilitate their success in school.
Linguistic intelligence involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages, and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals. This intelligence includes the ability to effectively use language to express oneself rhetorically or poetically; and language as a means to remember information. Writers, poets, lawyers and speakers are among those that Howard Gardner sees as having high linguistic intelligence.
Logical-mathematical intelligence consists of the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigate issues scientifically. In Howard Gardner’s words, it entails the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically. This intelligence is most often associated with scientific and mathematical thinking.
Musical intelligence involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. It encompasses the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms. According to Howard Gardner musical intelligence runs in an almost structural parallel to linguistic intelligence.
Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence entails the potential of using one’s whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements. Howard Gardner sees mental and physical activity as related.
Spatial intelligence involves the potential to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined areas.
Interpersonal intelligence is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. It allows people to work effectively with others. Educators, salespeople, religious and political leaders and counselors all need a well-developed interpersonal intelligence.
Intrapersonal intelligence entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivations. In Howard Gardner’s view it involves having an effective working model of ourselves, and to be able to use such information to regulate our lives.
In Frames of Mind Howard Gardner treated the personal intelligences ‘as a piece’. Because of their close association in most cultures, they are often linked together. However, he still argues that it makes sense to think of two forms of personal intelligence. Gardner claimed that the seven intelligences rarely operate independently. They are used at the same time and tend to complement each other as people develop skills or solve problems.
For more ideas and resources there are additional links (embed link to further readings here) for helping to make this a great year at school for your child.
Family games and activities that help sharpen listening skills:
Series of Sound
Using everyday items, you can incorporate hidden sounds into a family game. Challenge family members to listen for, draw, and repeat a series of common sounds. It’s amazing how much everyone tunes out the sounds around them.
Collect everyday objects such as a stapler, book, paper, kitchen tools or toys and place in a plastic bin or cardboard box.
Be sure to have a variety of items on hand to make noise with. Take turns making organizing a set number of these. For example, a series might include banging a book on the desk, bouncing a small ball, stomping your foot, clapping your hands, stapling papers, whistling, clicking keyboard keys, or shaking a bag of Lego blocks.
After dinner, have everyone at the table listen for sounds made only by the designated “sound engineer.”
Every time a new sound is made, everyone should draw a picture of the item that made the sound.
After all the sounds are made, share everyone’s lists, pass around the items drawn and recreate the series of sounds in order. Celebrate everyone’s listening success and laugh about the sounds no one got.
The Last Word
Multi-tasking is an essential element of effective listening. Similar to a common improvisation activity, this game challenges students to listen to classmates while also preparing a relevant statement in their head. Small or large groups can easily play ‘The Last Word.’
Choose a topic such as in the jungle, prehistoric life, an episode of a TV show, or a new pop song.
Select an order by handing out numbers or base your order on the seating arrangements.
The first player must walk to the front of the room and say one sentence that relates to the chosen topic.
The next player must immediately walk to the front of the room and say one sentence that starts with the last word said by the player immediately before them.
Play continues until all students have had a turn. If a student is unable to come up with an appropriate sentence within ten seconds, he is out of the game.
Game play continues in this fashion until there is only one person left and he is the winner.
Instead of playing 20 Questions on your next car trip. start a story where one person starts a story with a single sentence. Each person adds a new sentence, but only after repeating all of the previous sentences.
If you have a preschooler, check out this list of activities that enhance the development of listening skills: https://kidsactivitiesblog.com/52641/listening-skills/
Try using these tips to help you get the best out of a conversation with your family and will build bridges to better communication:
Set up some one on one time with each on one your children, whether they are helping you make dinner, set the table etc.
Focus on them, ask them how their day was, ask open ended questions, make sure they know you are interested on what they have to say.
Try not to interrupt if they are telling you a story about some behavior you don’t really agree with, try to ask questions that are not judgmental, for example; “why do you think you reacted that way?” “how did you feel after you had that reaction?” help them sort through the emotions and come up with their own conclusions.
Put yourself in their position, try to listen and not over analyze what they are saying, remember they are talking to you, they want to trust you with their stories and feelings.
Maybe you can share an experience where something similar has happened to you, and you can offer some comfort.
Restate parts of the story, so your child knows you are listening and this also helps you better understand the context of the story.
Repeat with each child, sometimes having these conversations as a group may have some family members feel left out and not heard.
Over time, using these techniques will help develop your family’s listening “muscle.” According to Stephen Walton from The Positive Parenting Centre website: “It’s critical to model your capacity to listen and understand. In turn, your child will instinctively develop active listening techniques of their own. They will become less argumentative and defensive, become more democratic and develop emotional maturity.” Be the best listener you can be to help promote good communication and understanding among your family. Active listening is not only about paying attention, it is about engaging in dialogue and one important pay-off is deeper and richer family relationships.
Restoring Balance If your family has been directly involved in an act of terror, war, or a natural disaster, you will have spent weeks or months—hopefully with adequate support—in recovering your lives. If your family has been on the periphery of these crises but have been witnesses via the media, you will still need time to restore some emotional balance. During these periods, a few small things can help children.
Get back to old routines As soon as reasonably possible, try to follow old routines because they provide comfort and a familiar structure to a child’s daily life. For example, get her back in school and do not cancel celebrations like birthday parties or after-school activities that she enjoys. Follow as normal a schedule as possible. Even if you are at a shelter, you can still maintain some family rituals like singing the same songs or reciting the same stories before bedtime. Try to maintain household rules and discipline routines, but be aware that changes in behavior may be a result of fears or insecurities that can be alleviated through repeated reassurances and extra attention. It’s OK to let your children be more dependent on you in the aftermath of a traumatic event. Children may be more distracted and have trouble concentrating on schoolwork. Be patient and give them gentle reminders and extra help if needed. Children may be more anxious when separating from parents for bedtime or when parents need to leave for work or an appointment. Give yourself extra time to cuddle and talk to your children before separating from them.
Remember that your children’s world revolves around you and your home. Any disruption to your normal family activities will be felt by your children. Things that may seem trivial to you, like watching television, playing on the computer, or having friends over, are important to your children and will be seen as tremendous losses if they are disrupted. Be patient and help children think of alternative activities if their normal toys aren’t available or if their regular activities are cancelled. Provide plenty of opportunities for play.
Review your family’s disaster preparedness plan Another way to encourage a child’s sense of control is to review your own family’s preparedness plan together. Coming up with a family plan in case a disaster directly affects you next time (or strikes again) can help increase your family’s sense of security.
Find ways to help others Finally, provide your children with opportunities to help others. Children cope better and recover sooner when they help others because it creates a sense of control and helps children feel better about themselves. By helping those affected by the tragedy or honoring those who died, children can regain a sense of control over a tragedy that often makes them feel helpless.
We all try to teach our children resilience so that they can bounce back from life’s challenges. That is not always easy and the American Psychological Association’s The Road to Resilience is a helpful tool for cultivating resilience in ourselves and our families.
We’ve gathered additional reading on mindful practices here, including the spenj.org article “Can Meditation Positively Impact Your Teenager? It Absolutely Can” as well links to tips on learning how to meditate and integrate mindfulness into your family’s life.
Helping Children Cope With Frightening News What parents can do to aid kids in processing grief and fear in a healthy way
By Harold S. Koplewicz, MD
President, Child Mind Institute
When tragedy strikes, as parents you find yourself doubly challenged: to process your own feelings of grief and distress and to help your children do the same. I wish I could tell you how to spare your children pain when they’ve lost friends or family members, and fear, when disturbing events occur, especially when they’re close to home. I cannot do that, but what I can do is share what I’ve learned about how to help children process disturbing events in the healthiest way. As a parent, you can’t protect your children from grief, but you can help them express their feelings, comfort them, and help them feel safer. By allowing and encouraging them to express their feelings, you can help them build healthy coping skills that will serve them well in the future, and confidence that they can overcome adversity.
Break the news. When something happens that will get wide coverage, my first and most important suggestion is that you don’t delay telling your children about what’s happened: It’s much better for the child if you’re the one who tells her. You don’t want her to hear from some other child, a television news report, or the headlines on the front page of the New York Post. You want to be able to convey the facts, however painful, and set the emotional tone.
Take your cues from your child. Invite her to tell you anything she may have heard about the tragedy, and how she feels. Give her ample opportunity to ask questions. You want to be prepared to answer (but not prompt) questions about upsetting details. Your goal is to avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.
Model calm. It’s okay to let your child know if you’re sad, but if you talk to your child about a traumatic experience in a highly emotional way, then he will likely absorb your emotion and very little else. If, on the other hand, you remain calm, he is likely to grasp what’s important: that tragic events can upset our lives, even deeply, but we can learn from bad experiences and work together to grow stronger.
Be reassuring. Talking about death is always difficult, but a tragic accident or act of violence is especially tough because of how egocentric children are: they’re likely to focus on whether something like this could happen to them. So it’s important to reassure your child about how unusual this kind of event is, and the safety measures that have been taken to prevent this kind of thing from happening to them. You can also assure him that this kind of tragedy is investigated carefully, to identify causes and help prevent it from happening again. It’s confidence-building for kids to know that we learn from negative experiences and help one another in difficult times.
Help them express their feelings. In your conversation (and subsequent ones) you can suggest ways your child might remember those she’s lost: draw pictures or tell stories about things you did together. If you’re religious, going to church or synagogue could be valuable.
Be developmentally appropriate. Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters. Difficult conversations like this aren’t over in one session; expect to return to the topic as many times as your child needs to come to terms with this experience.
Be available. If your child is upset, just spending time with him may make him feel safer. Children find great comfort in routines, and doing ordinary things together as a family may be the most effective form of healing.
Memorialize those who have been lost. Drawing pictures, planting a tree, sharing stories, or releasing balloons can all be good, positive ways to help provide closure to a child. It’s important to assure your child that a person continues to live on in the hearts and minds of others. Doing something to help others in need can be very therapeutic: it can help children not only feel good about themselves but learn a very healthy way to respond to grief.
How to Help Kids Cope After a Traumatic Event A guide for parents, teachers, and community leaders that offers simple tips on what to expect, what to do, and what to look out for after a crisis.
Helping Children Deal with Grief You can’t protect your kids from the pain of loss, but you can help them recover in a healthy way, and build coping skills for the future.
How to Foster Resilience A community of caring adults—and peers, too—can be critical in helping a child recover from a traumatic experience.
The Child Mind Institute is an independent nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders. Our teams work every day to deliver the highest standards of care, advance the science of the developing brain and empower parents, professionals, and policymakers to support children when and where they need it most. Together with our supporters, we’re helping children reach their full potential in school and in life. We share all of our resources freely and do not accept any funding from the pharmaceutical industry. Learn more at http://www.childmind.org.
Copyright 2016. Child Mind Institute
Helping Children Cope After a Traumatic Event: A recovery guide for parents, teachers, and community leaders
Helping Children Cope After a Traumatic Event
TABLE OF CONTENTS
—About This Guide
—Helpful Tips for Children of Any Age
— Signs of Trauma
—How to Help Children Ages 0-2
—How to Help Children Ages 2-5
—How to Help Children Ages 6-11
—How to Help Children Ages 12-18
—What Teachers Can Do to Help Students
Dear Parents and Teachers,
In the wake of a traumatic event, you may be filled with worry or sadness. Yet no matter how concerned or overwhelmed you may feel, as parents and teachers you have the power to help children recover. Your comfort, support, and reassurance can make them feel safe and secure, guide them through their fears and grief, and prevent them from suffering lasting psychological effects.
This guide was assembled by psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health experts who specialize in crisis situations. It offers simple tips on what to expect, what to do and what to look out for. There are general suggestions as well as age-specific information. If you or your children require assistance from a mental health professional, do not hesitate to ask a doctor or other healthcare provider for a recommendation.
Harold S. Koplewicz, MD
President, Child Mind Institute
Helpful Tips for Children of Any Age
Make your child feel safe. All children, from toddlers to teens, will benefit from your touch — extra cuddling, hugs or just
a reassuring pat on the back. It gives them a feeling of security, which is so important in the aftermath of a frightening or
disturbing event. For specific information on what to do and say, see the Age-by-Age Guide.
Act calm. Children look to adults for reassurance after traumatic events have occurred.
Do not discuss your anxieties with your children, or when they are around, and be aware of the tone of your voice, as children quickly pick up on anxiety.
Maintain routines as much as possible. Amidst chaos and change, routines reassure children that life will be okay again.
Try to have regular mealtimes and bedtimes. If you are homeless or temporarily relocated, establish new routines. And
stick with the same family rules, such as ones about good behavior.
Help children enjoy themselves. Encourage kids to do activities and play with others. The distraction is good for them,
and gives them a sense of normalcy.
Share information about what happened. It’s always best to learn the details of a traumatic event from a safe, trusted adult.
Be brief and honest, and allow children to ask questions. Don’t presume kids are worrying about the same things as adults.
Pick good times to talk. Look for natural openings to have a discussion.
Prevent or limit exposure to news coverage. This is especially critical with toddlers and school-age children, as seeing disturbing events recounted on television or in the newspaper or listening to them on the radio can make them seem tobe ongoing. Children who believe bad events are temporary can more quickly recover from them.
Understand that children cope in different ways. Some might want to spend extra time with friends and relatives; some might want to spend more time alone. Let your child know it is normal to experience anger, guilt and sadness, and to express things in different ways — for example, a person may feel sad but not cry.
Listen well. It is important to understand how your child views the situation, and what is confusing or troubling to her.
Do not lecture — just be understanding. Let kids know it is okay to tell you how they are feeling at any time.
Acknowledge what your child is feeling. If a child admits to a concern, do not respond, “Oh, don’t be worried,” because he may feel embarrassed or criticized. Simply confirm what you are hearing: “Yes, I can see that you are worried.”
Know that it’s okay to answer, “I don’t know.” What children need most is someone whom they trust to listen to their questions, accept their feelings and be there for them. Don’t worry about knowing exactly the right thing to say — after all, there is no answer that will make everything okay. Realize the questions may persist. Because the aftermath of a disaster may include constantly changing situations, children may have questions on more than one occasion. Let them know you are ready to talk at any time. Children need to digest information on their own timetable, and questions might come out of nowhere.
Encourage family discussions about the death of a loved one. When families can talk and feel sad together, it’s more likely that kids will share their feelings.
Do not give children too much responsibility. It is very important not to overburden kids with tasks, or give them adult ones, as this can be too stressful for them. Instead, for the near future you should lower expectations for household duties and school demands, although it is good to have kids do at least some chores.
Give special help to kids with special needs. These children may require more time, support and guidance than other children. You might need to simplify the language you use, and repeat things very often. You may also need to tailor information to your child’s strength; for instance, a child with language disability may better understand information through the use of visual materials.
Signs of Trauma
Constantly replaying the event in their minds
Beliefs that the world is generally unsafe
Irritability, anger and moodiness
Appetite or sleep issues
Nervousness about people getting too close
Jumpiness from loud noises
Regression to earlier behavior in young children, such as: clinging, bedwetting or thumb-sucking
Detachment or withdrawal from others
Use of alcohol or drugs in teens
Functional impairment: Inability to go to school, learn, play with friends, etc.
Help children relax with breathing exercises. Breathing becomes shallow when anxiety sets in; deep belly breaths can help children calm down. You can hold a feather or a wad of cotton in front of your child’s mouth and ask him to blow at it, exhaling slowly. Or you can say, “Let’s breathe in slowly while I count to three, then breathe out while I count to three.” Place a stuffed animal or pillow on your child’s belly as he lies down and ask him to breathe in and out slowly and watch the stuffed animal or pillow rise and fall.
Watch for signs of trauma. Within the first month after a disaster it is common for kids to seem okay, or to seem generally cranky or clingy. After the shock wears off kids might experience more symptoms — especially children who have witnessed injuries or death, lost immediate family members, experienced previous trauma in their lives or who are not resettled in a new home.
Know when to seek help. Although anxiety and other issues may last for months, seek immediate help from your family doctor or from a mental health professional if they do not decrease or your child starts to hear voices, sees things that are not there, becomes excessively worried, has temper tantrums, or hurts himself or others (e.g., head banging, punching or kicking).
Take care of yourself. You can best help your child when you help yourself. Talk about concerns with friends and relatives; it might be helpful to form a support group. If you belong to a church or community group, keep participating.
Try to eat right, drink enough water, stick to exercise routines and get enough sleep. Physical health protects against emotional vulnerability. To reduce stress, do deep breathing. If you suffer from severe anxiety that interferes with your ability to function, seek help from a doctor or mental health professional; if you don’t have access to one, talk with a religious leader. Recognize your need for help and get it. Do it for your child’s sake, if for no other reason.
How to Help Children Ages 0-2
Infants sense your emotions, and react accordingly. If you are calm, your baby will feel secure. If you act anxious and overwhelmed, your baby may react with fussing, have trouble being soothed, eat or sleep irregularly or act withdrawn.
What you can do:
Try your best to act calm. Even if you are feeling stressed or anxious, talk to your baby in a soothing voice.
Respond consistently to your baby’s needs. The developmental task of this age is to trust caregivers so kids can develop a strong, healthy attachment.
Continue nursing if you have been breastfeeding. Although there is a myth that when a mother experiences shock her breast milk turns bad and could cause the baby to be “slow” or have learning disorders, that is not true. It is important to continue nursing your baby to keep her healthy and c onnected with you. You need to sta y healthy to br eastfeed, so do your best to eat enough and drink water.
Look into your baby’s eyes. Smile at her. Touch her. Research shows that eye contact, touch and simply being in a mother’s presence helps keep a baby’s emotions balanced.
How to Help Children Ages 2-5
At this age, although children are making big developmental advances, they still depend on parents to nurture them. As with babies, they typically respond to situations according to how parents react. If you are calm and confident, your child will feel more secure. If you act anxious or overwhelmed, your child may feel unsafe.
What you can do:
Make your child feel safe. Hold, hug and cuddle your child as much as possible. Tell her you will take care of her when she feels sad or scared. With children who are learning to talk, use simple phrases such as, “Mommy’s here.”
Watch what you say. Little children have big ears and may pick up on your anxiety, misinterpret what they hear or be frightened unnecessarily by things they do not understand.
Maintain routines as much as possible. No matter what your living situation, do your best to have regular mealtimes and bedtimes. If you are homeless or have been relocated, create new routines. Try to do the things you have always done with your children, such as singing songs or saying prayers before they go to sleep.
Give extra support at bedtime. Children who have been through trauma may become anxious at night. When you put your child to bed, spend more time than usual talking or telling stories. It’s okay to make a temporary arrangement for young children to sleep with you, but with the understanding that they will go back to normal sleeping arrangements at a set future date.
Do not expose kids to the news. Young children tend to confuse facts with fears. They may not realize that the images they see on the news aren’t happening again and again. They should also not listen to the radio.
Encourage children to share feelings. Try a simple question such as, “How are you feeling today?” Follow any conversations about the recent event with a favorite story or a family activity to help kids feel more safe and calm.
Enable your child to tell the story of what happened. This will help her make sense of the event and cope with her feelings. Play can often be used to help your child frame the story and tell you about the event in her own words.
Draw pictures. Young children often do well expressing emotions with drawing. This is another opportunity to provide explanations and reassurance. To start a discussion, you may comment on what a child has drawn.
If your child acts out it may be a sign she needs extra attention. Help her name how she feels: Scared? Angry? Sad? Let her know it is okay to feel that way, then show her the right way to behave — you can say, “It’s okay to be angry, but it is not okay to hit your sister.”
Get kids involved in activities. Distraction is a good thing for kids at this age. Play games with them, and arrange for playtime with other kids.
Talk about things that are going well. Even in the most trying times, it’s important to identify something positive and express hope for the future to help your child recover. You can
Typical reactions of children ages 2-5:
Talking repeatedly about the event or pretending to “play” the event
Tantrums or irritable outbursts
Crying and tearfulness
Increased fearfulness — often of the dark, monsters or being alone
Increased sensitivity to sounds like thunder, wind and other loud noises
Disturbances in eating, sleeping and toileting
Believing that the disaster can be undone
Excessive clinging to caregivers and trouble separating
Reverting to early behavior like baby talk, bedwetting and thumb-sucking
When scared, say something like, “We still have each other. I am here with you, and I will stay with you.” Pointing out the good will help you feel better, too.
To help kids ages 2-5 cope with the death of a loved one:
Speak to them at their level. Use similar experiences to help children understand, such as the death of a pet or changes in flowers in the garden.
Provide simple explanations. For example, “When someone dies, we can’t see them anymore but we can still look at them in pictures and remember them.”
Reassure your children. They might feel what happened is their fault, somehow; let them know it is not.
Expect repeated questions. That is how young children process information
How to Help Children Ages 6-11
At this age, children are more able to talk about their thoughts and feelings and can better handle difficulties, but they still look to parents for comfort and guidance. Listening to them demonstrates your commitment. When scary things happen, seeing that parents can still parent may be the most reassuring thing for a frightened child.
What you can do:
Reassure your child that he is safe. Children this age are comforted by facts. Use real words, such as hurricane, earthquake, flood, aftershock. For kids this age, knowledge is empowering and helps relieve anxiety.
Keep things as “normal” as possible. Bedtime and mealtime routines help kids feel safe and secure. If you are homeless or have been relocated, establish different routines and give your child some choice in the matter — for example, let her choose which story to tell at bedtime. This gives a child a sense of control during an uncertain time.
Limit exposure to television, newspapers and radio. The more bad news school-age kids are exposed to, the more worried they will be. News footage can magnify the trauma of the event, so when a child does watch a news report or listen to the radio, sit with him so you can talk about it afterward. Avoid letting your child see graphic images.
Typical reactions of children ages 6-11:
Increased aggression, anger and irritability (like bullying or fighting with peers)
Sleep and appetite disturbances
Blaming themselves for the event
Moodiness or crying
Concerns about being taken care of
Fear of future injury or death of loved ones
Denying the event even occurred
Complaints about physical discomfort, such as stomachaches, headaches and lethargy, which may be due to stress
Repeatedly asking questions
Refusing to discuss the event (more typical among kids ages 9-11)
Withdrawal from social interactions
Academic problems (like trouble with memory and concentration, or refusing to attend school)
Spend time talking with your child. Let him know that it is okay to ask questions and to express concerns or sadness. One way to encourage conversation is to use family time (such as mealtime) to talk about what is happening in the family as well as in the community. Also ask what his friends have been saying, so you can make sure to correct any misinformation.
Answer questions briefly but honestly. After a child has brought something up, first ask for his ideas so you can understand exactly what the concern is. Usually children ask a question because they are worried about something specific. Give a reassuring answer. If you do not know an answer to a question, it is okay to say, “I don’t know.” Do not speculate or repeat rumors.
Draw out children who do not talk. Open a discussion by sharing your own feelings — for example, you could say, “This was a very scary thing, and sometimes I wake up in the night because I am thinking about it. How are you feeling?” Doing this helps your child feel he is not alone in his concerns or fears. However, do not give a lot of detail about your own anxieties.
Keep children busy. Daily activities, such as playing with friends or going to school, may have been disrupted. Help kids think of alternative activities and organize playgroups with other parents.
Calm worries about friends’ safety. Reassure your children that their friends’ parents are taking care of them just as they are being cared for by you.
Talk about community recovery. Let children know that things are being done to keep them safe, or restore electricity and water, and that government and community groups are helping, if applicable.
Encourage kids to lend a hand. This will give them a sense of accomplishment and purpose at a time when they may feel helpless. Younger children can do small tasks for you; older ones can contribute to volunteer projects in the community.
Find the hope. Children need to see the future to recover. Kids this age appreciate specifics. For example, in the event of a natural disaster, you could say: “People from all over the country are sending medical supplies, food and water. They’ve built new places where people who are hurt will be taken care of, and they will build new homes. It’ll be very hard like this for just a little while.”
To help kids ages 6-11 cope with the death of a loved one:
Find out what your child is thinking. Ask questions before you make assumptions about what your child wants to know. For example, you can say, “What’s been different for you since Grandma died? What feelings have you been having? All of this is really hard to think about, but it’s important for us to talk about it.”
Use real words. Avoid confusing sayings like, “He went to a better place.” School-age children are easily confused by vague answers. Instead, you can say, “Grandma has died, she is not coming back, and it is okay to feel sad about that.”
Be as concrete as possible. Use simple drawings to describe things such as the body and injuries.
Inform your child. Let her know that anger and sadness are typical, and that if she avoids feelings she may feel worse later on.
Prepare the child for anticipated changes in routines or household functions. Talk about what the changes will mean for her.
Reassure your child. Help her understand it is okay, and normal, to have trouble with school, peers and family during this time.
Encourage meaningful memorializing. Pray together as a family and take your child with you to light a candle. Your child might also want to write a letter to the deceased person or draw a picture you can hang up.
Be patient. Kids up to age 11 may think death is reversible and can have trouble accepting the fact that the person may not return. You might need to say repeatedly, “He died and is not coming back, and I am sad. ”
How to help children ages 12-18
Adolescence is already a challenging time for young people, who have so many changes happening in their bodies. They struggle with wanting more independence from parents, and have a tendency to believe they are invincible and nothing can harm them. Traumatic events can make them feel out of control, even if they act as if they are strong. They will also feel bad for people affected by the disaster, and have a strong desire to know why the event occurred.
What you can do:
Make your teen feel safe again. Adolescents do not like to show vulnerability; they may try to act as if they are doing fine even though they are not. While they may resist hugs, your touch can help them f eel secure. You can sa y something lik e, “I know you’re grown now, but I just need to give you a hug.”
Help teens feel helpful. Give them small tasks and responsibilities in the household, then praise them for what they have done and how they have handled themselves. Do not overburden teens with too many responsibilities, especially adult-like ones, as that will add to their anxiety.
Open the door for discussion. It’s very typical for teens to say they don’t want to talk. Try to start a conversation while you are doing an activity together, so that the conversation does not feel too intense or confrontational.
Consider peer groups. Some teenagers may feel more comfortable talking in groups with their peers, so consider organizing one. Also encourage conversation with other trusted adults, like a relative or teacher.
Limit exposure to television, newspapers and radio. While teens can handle the news better than younger kids, those who are unable to detach themselves from television or the radio may be trying to deal with anxiety in unhealthy ways. In any case, talk with your teen about the things she has seen or heard.
Help your teen take action. Kids this age will want to help the community. Find appropriate volunteer opportunities.
Be aware of substance abuse. Teens are particularly at risk for turning to alcohol or drugs to numb their anxiety. If your teen has been behaving secretively or is seemingly drunk or high, get in touch with a doctor. And talk to your teen in a kind way. For example, “People often drink or use drugs after a disaster to calm themselves or forget, but it can also cause more problems. Some other things you can do are take a walk, talk to me or your friends about how you feel, or write about your hopes for a better future.”
Typical reactions of children ages 12-18:
Avoidance of feelings
Constantly thinking about the disaster
Distancing themselves from friends and family
Anger or resentment
Depression and extreme sadness
Panic and anxiety, including worrying about the future
Mood swings and irritability
Changes in appetite and sleep habits
Academic issues, such as trouble with memory and concentration, or refusing to attend school
Participation in risky or illegal behavior, like drinking alcohol
How to help kids ages 12-18 cope with the death of a loved one:
Be patient. Teens may have a fear of expressing emotions about death. Encourage them to talk by saying something like, “I know it is horrible that Grandma has died. Experts say it’s good to share our feelings. How are you doing?”
Be very open. Discuss the ways you feel the death may be influencing her behavior.
Be flexible. It is okay, at this time, to have a little more flexibility with rules and academic and behavioral expectations.
Memorialize meaningfully. Pray together at home and include your teen in memorial ceremonies. She might also appreciate doing a private family tribute at home.
What teachers can do to help students
Resume routine as much as possible. Children tend to function better when they know what to expect. Returning to a school routine will help students feel that the troubling events have not taken control over every aspect of their daily lives. Maintain expectations of students. Things don’t need to be perfect, but needing to do some homework and simple classroom tasks is very helpful.
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Be aware of signs that a child may need extra help. Students who are unable to function due to feelings of intense sadness, fear or anger should be referred to a mental health professional. Children may have distress that is manifested as physical ailments, such as headaches, stomachaches or extreme fatigue. Help kids understand more about what happened. For example, you can mention the various kinds of help coming in, and provide positive coping ideas.
Consider a memorial. Memorials are often helpful to commemorate people and things that were lost. School memorials should be kept brief and appropriate to the needs and age range of the general school community. Children under four may not have the attention span to join in. A known caregiver, friend or relative should be the child’s companion during funeral or memorial activities. Reassure children that school officials are making sure they are safe. Children’s fears decrease when they know that trusted adults are doing what they can to take care of them.
Stay in touch with parents. Tell them about the school’s programs and activities so they can be prepared for discussions that may continue at home. Encourage parents to limit their children’s exposure to news reports. Take care of yourself. You may be so busy helping your students that you neglect yourself. Find ways for you and your colleagues to support one another.