On October 29, my home state of New Jersey was in the path of Hurricane Sandy. Lives have been disrupted. At the very least, residents have been without electric which provides not only lights but also heat and hot water. At the most, people have lost homes and been displaced with few or no belongings. Nothing has felt right or familiar. Schools have been closed for nearly two weeks. Families are with other families or in shelters. Places we have loved are gone. There is no regular routine.
The children in our community have had their lives turned upside down. Some have slept in the cold. Others have stayed with friends or relatives. Some, not far from here, live in shelters now. All week, I have listened to adults say, “They will be okay. Children are resilient.”
I challenge the notion that all children are resilient and hesitate to invalidate their thought processes by declaring so. If all children were resilient, then we would not see so many children suffering from anxiety and depression. They are not too young to know that their lives are disrupted. They thrive on routine and nothing is normal. I am left to wonder if “Encouraging coping skills and resilience” should be listed as a goal under our early childhood social/emotional development goals.
Encouraging coping skills and resilience begins with validating their feelings and knowing how young children can express emotions. Children may behave differently – become more clingy, more active or more defiant. When adults are stressed, it becomes more difficult to deal with the behaviors that indicate stress in young children. We forget that they are processing emotions just like we are but don’t have the words or the maturity to express it like an adult. Young children will not come to you to say, “My life is in a shambles. Nothing feels right.” We just have to know it. Adults have to find a way to provide routine when there is none for us. When children know what is coming next, they feel more secure.
Validating a child’s feelings also means giving them the words. When we say, “I know you are afraid” or “Being away from home is frustrating,” we open the door for communication and give them a name for what they feel. Imagine feeling something and not knowing what it is. Imagine being angry and then being dismissed because you are declared resilient.
Children can also express their emotions through play. The most important center in a preschool classroom is the dramatic play center. Dramatic play gives children a safe way to explore roles and emotions. Give your stressed child the gift of time for dramatic play. Children will use dolls to show how they feel. They will pretend to be older like you, younger like their siblings and superheroes who are fearless. As they step into roles, we are given a window to their feelings. Watch them play and consider what it tells you about what they are feeling.
Finally, the most important thing we can give our children when their lives are disrupted is sometimes the hardest thing to give – time. They need our time. They need to have time with our undivided attention so they know they are still loved and still a priority.
Should we teach coping and resilience? We do that by giving our children a means of expression. A child who can express feelings feels less isolated. We do that by making young children feel validated, safe, secure, independent and capable. A child who feels capable can face challenge. We do that by being examples of resilience and teaching our children that we will survive.
I think of the children we saw in the shelters as I look into the faces of those who have homes. I pray for their resilience.
Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
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