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Helping kids cope in challenging times: 4 helpful tips

Everyday life can feel overwhelming to even the strongest adult. It’s not surprising then, that children often have a difficult time understanding – much less coping – with modern stressors. Acts of violence, the threat of school shootings, civic unrest and anxiety about COVID-19 are just a few of the many challenges facing our kids.

Fortunately, parents, school officials and other caregivers can take action to help children understand the world around them and learn positive coping skills. While the child’s age and developmental stage should inform your approach, here are some general tips for helping kids cope with challenging situations:

Have open and honest conversations about safety. Be honest with children about the dangers that exist but do so with a facts-based approach. Calmly explain effective and practical approaches to staying safe at school, with friends or in the community. Parents, school officials and other caregivers can help shape a healthy awareness of the world and empower children with effective problem-solving skills. This can go a long way toward keeping them safe.

Recognize that degrees of anxiety and reactions to stress vary among different kids. Not every child will react the same way to trauma. It is important to meet kids where they are and tailor coping skills and problem-solving strategies according to their needs and abilities.

Look out for potential triggers likely to set off anxiety, fear or panic. We can’t protect our kids from all of life’s triggers, but we can be ready to support them when the time comes. Common sense and age-appropriate guidance can help them learn to manage anxiety and approach challenging situations with confidence.

LISTEN to the child’s needs and offer support. When a child expresses their needs to an adult it is an extension of trust. One of the most important things you can do is listen to a child when they’re ready to talk and take measures to ensure that the child feels heard. Whenever possible offer age-appropriate facts and practical approaches that empower kids to manage difficult emotions.

There are many helpful resources available online to help children cope with a challenging world. If you know a child that needs assistance, please visit the SAMSHA website for more age-appropriate tips. Spanish-speaking resources are available.

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