What to do if your child witnessed something shocking and is scared
War is horrifying. Unfortunately, during these times children are forced to live through the war just the same as adults, and can witness shocking violence.
- Do not scold or shame the child for their fear. Fear is a natural and normal feeling, part of an instinctive program of self-preservation. It is uncontrollable in children, manifested on a physical level – by trembling, tearfulness, sleep and appetite disorders, nervous tics or stuttering.
- If you see that the child is very scared, try to comfort them: hug them tightly, warm them with the heat of your body and stroke their back – it will help relieve stress.
- Let the child cry if they need to. Don’t shush them, don’t try to reason with them. Let them cry for as long as they need to and just be there for them and show your love.
- Discuss with the child what they saw. Help the child voice what she can’t say for themselves: “You were so scared when you saw…”. This will help them to let go of fear. Like any strong emotion that remains inside, fear “presses” on the child, creating constant tension. And if you let it out like air from a ball, it loses its strength.
- When talking to a child, try to create a safe and calm environment, hug them if they do not resist. Speak slowly and pause to give your child time to understand and you to keep your feelings in check.
- For the most part, one conversation is not enough and you have to repeat them many times, using different words, remembering the details of what happened. This should be done until you feel that the child’s fear is gradually diminishing. And most importantly – support the child every time they remember what happened and want to talk about it (“Do you remember, mom, how scared I was of the explosion?”).
- Tell your child about your own feelings and fears: “I was scared too.” Allow yourself and your child to be afraid – do not try to convince them that they are not really afraid, that they had no reason to be afraid or that it wasn’t really scary.
- Ask the child to draw what frightened them – it will help them cope with emotions. The child themselves will choose how to do it. Some children draw or sculpt a scene they are afraid of, down to the smallest detail. Some cover the sheets with black or red paint, scratch the holes on paper with a pen. It is not necessary to direct the child to some “correct” way of expression or to evaluate the artistic merits of the result, because the main goal is to let out what oppresses the child inside.
- Remember, a child is not born with the ability to control their feelings and emotions. And even not all adults do it well. Therefore, the main task is to help the child work through their emotions.
* Recommendations by psychologist Natalia Akulshina
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