Avigdor Klingman detailed how we can prevent children from developing anxiety to the point of post-traumatic stress disorder (PDST). Klingman had some interesting thoughts that have implications for the current coronavirus pandemic and how we can try and mitigate the dangers. He provided three variables that predict a child’s adjustment to trauma like the one we are experiencing and four ways that parents can help prevent the impact trauma has on a child.
Children are influenced far more by their environment than adults. Their adjustment and reaction to trauma will, therefore, be impacted by how parents and siblings respond to the coronavirus and the impact it is having. Children will take their stress-response cues from their parent’s and will interpret the traumatic event according to how their parents do.
Three parental variables predict a child’s adjustment – or maladjustment – to trauma:
- Separation from significant family members during a traumatic event.
- The parent’s traumatic stress reaction.
- Deterioration of family functioning.
Although the thoughts of contributing to their child’s development of anxiety could add to a parent’s stress, this could instead be viewed as a controllable factor when so many more factors are uncontrollable right now. The following actions are within your control and actionable right now:
Control your stress
Parents cannot pour from an empty cup and cannot reduce the stress levels of their child if they are stressed themselves. Implementing a self-care routine that will help you maintain a level head is paramount to helping your child. This can be as simple as an episode of your favourite Netflix show or as complex as a meditation/yoga/journaling routine.
Ensure you are available for your child throughout this crisis. If a parent is stressed, a child may lose adult support when they need it most. Keeping an eye out for early signs of traumatic stress can help prevent a small problem becoming a bigger one down the line. Communicate with your child openly, let them know that you are controlling everything you can, their reaction is normal and they are not alone in this.
Reframe the Event
It is easy to get stuck in a cycle of news that is negative and scary. Turn off the global news and start to reframe the event in the confines of your own home. Discuss it as an opportunity for more family time, a chance to practice hobbies they enjoy, gratitude that everyone in the family unit is safe and well under the roof. Reframing the event and communicating this to your child will impact how they view it. It might be challenging to change your mindset but this is important.
Communicating confidence to your child that you have the controllable factors under control is important to how they respond to the current stress. Keep as calm a routine as is viable. Demonstrate confidence that things will improve and this too, shall pass. Parents have a huge role in exacerbating or buffering the child’s response so conveying this confidence will help reduce feelings of anxiety that could grow as time passes.
Klingman’s research points to continuity and simplicity as successful traits of effective interventions when supporting children through traumatic events. Thankfully, simple strategies for anxiety are readily available even in the confines of our own home. I provide 6 ways to ease anxiety here along with a more fleshed out explanation of how to implement journaling with your child here.
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