Ministering to Children During Crisis
We may not be able to change a child’s situation, and we are not qualified to deal with deep psychological issues; however, we can take care that what we do as we work with children does not add to their stress. Additionally, there are steps we can take to help children deal with the stress of a crisis and its aftermath. First, pray for them. Then:
Listen. Give children opportunities to talk about the crisis and the stressful events or situations in their lives. Show respect for the concern or fears of the child. Ask open-ended questions to help the child express his concerns. Ask the child, “What have you heard about this?” or “What do you think about that?” Let the child know you are there to listen.
Encourage children to express their feelings. Give preschoolers paper and crayons to let them express themselves. Provide simple props (dolls, toy cars, dress-up clothes, etc.) to let youngsters re-enact feelings or events. A school-age child may also draw pictures or write a poem or story. Encourage an older child to keep a journal.
Acknowledge their feelings. “That makes you sad” or “You are angry.” Allow them to feel the way they do – it only makes things worse to hear “Don’t cry” or You shouldn’t feel that way.” Express your concern –“I’m so sorry that happened.”
Provide stability. Children need predictability in times of uncertainty. Maintain consistent schedules and routines, giving advance notice of any changes to occur. Set firm limits on behavior. Help the child to know they can trust you.
Provide calm, soothing surroundings. Too much busy-ness increases stress. Children need some quiet time. Don’t overload activities or responsibilities. Play calming music at times. If you are working in a classroom, keep it free of clutter and too much visual stimulation.
Show you care. Use appropriate touches to show affection, but also be sensitive to giving children “space,” so they don’t always have to talk about what’s bothering them. Be supportive. Love the child, even if he is not well-behaved. Misbehavior is often a plea for attention.
Communicate with family. If stress seems overwhelming, be ready to encourage parents or family members to seek the help of a counselor or doctor on behalf of the child.
Ease their sense of helplessness. Empower a child to take some action, no matter how small. Even adults feel powerless in the wake of a crisis, so imagine how the children feel! Find some way that the children can contribute to making life better for those affected by the crisis. Guide them to find ways to help their family, or point out to them how they are already helping (playing with baby sister while mom gets supper ready, etc.). Even small actions can help a child feel that they have some control over what is happening in their world and that they can make a difference.
By Joye Smith, Preschool Consultant, Woman’s Missionary Union, Birmingham, AL
and Sue Harmon, Disaster Relief Manager, South Carolina Baptist Convention