How to Help Children Cope with a Crisis

How to Help Children Cope with a Crisis

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In the wake of the bombing at the Boston Marathon, parents, teachers, grandparents and other caregivers are very concerned about how dramatic images of and discussion about the tragic event will affect the emotional well-being of their children. They are looking for advice on how to communicate with children.

Ten Tips to Help Children Cope

Save the Children recommends parents, teachers, grandparents and caregivers:

1. Limit television time. While it can be important for adults to stay informed about the situation, television images and reports may be confusing and frightening for children. Watching too many television reports can overwhelm children and even adults. So, limit the number of television reports about the situation you and your children watch.

2. Listen to your children carefully. Try to find out what your child knows and understands about the situation before responding to their questions. Children can experience stress when they do not understand dangerous experiences. Find out what your child knows about the crisis. Then, talk to your child to help him or her understand the situation and ease their concerns.

3. Give children reassurance. Tell children that adults are doing everything they can to protect and help children who have been affected by the tragedy. Also, let them know that if an emergency happens, your main concern would be their safety. Make sure they know they are being protected.

4. Be alert for significant changes in behavior. Caregivers should be alert to any significant changes in children’s sleeping patterns, eating habits, and concentration levels. Also watch for wide emotional swings or frequent physical complaints. If any of these actions do happen, they will likely lessen within a short time. If they continue, however, you should seek professional help and counseling for the child.

5. Understand children’s unique needs. Not every child will experience a disaster in the same way. As children develop, their intellectual, physical and emotional abilities change. Younger children will depend largely on their parents to interpret events; older children and adolescents will get information from various sources, such as friends and the media. Remember that children of any age can be affected by a disaster. Provide them all with love, understanding and support.

6. Give your children extra time and attention. Children need close, personal attention to know they are safe. Talk, play and, most importantly, listen to them. Find time to engage in special activities with children of all ages.

7. Be a model for your children. Your children will learn how to deal with these events by seeing how you respond. The amount you tell children about how you’re feeling should depend on the age and maturity of the child. You may be able to disclose more to older or more mature children but remember to do so calmly.

8. Watch your own behavior. Make a point of being sensitive to those impacted by the crisis. This is an opportunity to teach your children that we all need to help each other.

9. Help your children return to a normal routine. Children usually benefit from routine activities such as set eating times, bed time, and playing with others. Parents should make sure their children's school is also returning to normal patterns and not spending a lot of time discussing the disaster.

10. Encourage your children to do volunteer work. Helping others can give children a sense of control and security and promote helping behavior. During a disaster, children and adolescents can bring about positive change by supporting those in need.

These tips are also available online at or to download a PDF in Spanish got to

Boston Marathon Runners Honored Sandy Hook Victims

Many at the Boston Marathon ran in honor of those lost during the tragedy in Newtown, Conn last December. According to NBC, "runners held a 26-second moment of silence at the beginning of the race, and a special marker bearing the city seal of Newtown was placed at the 26-mile mark. The marker was surrounded by 26 stars."

Save the Children responded in the aftermath of the tragedy where 26 lives were lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty first graders — all ages 6 or 7 — and six adults were fatally shot by a single gunman. As a result of this unthinkable tragedy, many children in Newtown and surrounding communities are grieving, expressing confusion and fear, and experiencing distress.

Save the Children's Response in Newtown

Immediately following the tragedy, Save the Children was invited by the American Red Cross to deploy staff members to help provide emotional support to children in Newtown. Within hours, we had opened a Child Friendly Space in the John Reed Intermediate School to give children a safe place to play and express themselves while their parents and family members sought counseling and support in connection with the tragedy. The school was designated as the site for crisis and grief counseling for affected members of the community, including families of the children killed and Sandy Hook Elementary School survivors.

The Child Friendly Space was in a large art classroom adjacent to two large auditoriums where crisis counseling and critical information continues to be provided to families. Adults who attend counseling can do so knowing that their children are safe and taking part in play and structured activities.

Over the two days following the event, some 200 children were served by the Child Friendly Space. Many were students at the Sandy Hook Elementary School and their siblings. On Monday, December 17, with Newtown schools closed, we served 45 children.

In addition to Save the Children’s staff, the executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Children, who is also a licensed psychologist certified in crisis counseling, partnered with us and was present at the Child Friendly Space.

We also continue to provide assistance to parents, grandparents and children’s caregivers through our “10 Tips” guidance to families (see below).

Additionally, our domestic emergencies advisor has been providing technical guidance to Connecticut state officials about critical gaps and important next steps in the recovery.

Save the Children’s Child Friendly Spaces are based on our decades of experience protecting children. They have been an integral part of our response to every major U.S. emergency since Hurricane Katrina; spaces are staffed by trained adults and provide children with access to activities and play that offer a respite from the stress and fear of the emergency.

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