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How to support children with challenge, crisis or trauma. (cert-4-£1)

Updated: May 15, 2021

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Children in crisis

Children may face a variety of difficulties in their lives and what may be devastating to one child, another may take in their stride. How we react to those situations may help children cope with a challenging situation, crisis or trauma.

It is important to recognise that during a challenging situation, crisis or trauma, everyday life may change significantly. Even the basics such as meal times, a child’s home, their clothing and normal routines may change. It is really important to recognise the signs and symptoms that a child may be finding a situation difficult, particularly if they are showing signs of feeling fearful, worried, isolated (from familiar adults, for example parents, grandparents, early years educator), uncertain about their future (remember that to children the ‘future’ can mean the next few minutes, an hour or day) or a perception of danger.

Knowing how children of the same age would react to challenging circumstances is helpful in trying to identify signs and symptoms, but it is important to remember that not at all signs and symptoms will be present or totally reliable as children will respond to situations as individuals; all in different ways. Most often a child’s parents or early years educator will be able to identify the child’s usual behaviour and therefore, will be able to recognise what is different about the child during a challenging situation.

Signs and Symptoms

Remember these signs and symptoms will not necessarily mean that the child is struggling in the situation, they are all normal reactions to a traumatic situation. It is IMPORTANT to look for these if the child’s behaviour has changed or they are not acting as they normally would. Also remember that adults should respond in a calm and caring way to support the child.

Changes in behaviour that you may observe, include:

· Requires more attention than normal

· Common childhood fears may intensify, for example the fear of the dark

· Unusually irritable

· Sleeping difficulties

· Reoccurring stomach aches and headaches (especially if the child is too young to verbalise how they feel)

· Unusually overly emotional or tearful

· Unusually under emotional for their age or seem ‘numb’ to situations

· Uses inappropriate language, comments or actions, for example a preoccupation with death or losing a parent

· Appears unusually ‘on edge’ or ‘jumpy’

· Chooses to isolate self from others, seems quiet and/or withdrawn

· Makes minimal or no eye contact

· A change in attention span, showing an inability to focus on tasks or quickly moves on to new ones

· Constantly tired and not motivated

· Behaviour or development may regress, for example a child who is potty trained may return to nappies during the challenging time period.

Remember that each child is different and may exhibit one, some or none of these changes in behaviour.

How to support the child

After a challenging event, traumatic experience or crisis it is important that parents or early years educators provide coping skills, encourage children’s resilience and support them to feel safe and secure as much as possible in the situation. Consider the following strategies to support the child:

· Trusted Adults- it is essential that the child feels they have a trusted adult in their life who is consistent and makes them feel safe and secure.

· Help to soothe the child- by reading comforting stories, playing soothing music and providing comfort foods (within reason to ensure a balanced diet). Children need to be reassured with words and hugs.

· Create a sense of safety- this will help the child to feel more secure, offering the child physical comforts and your protection, for example comforting objects- toys, blankets etc. Spend time with the child to restore a sense of security.

· Limit a child’s exposure to the news- images and sounds can be graphic and troubling for children, avoid relying on the news to give children information. News reports can be dramatic and overwhelming for children, this can make a child internalise their worries and make it harder for them to express their concerns. It is important to decide how you want to relay information to the child and ensure that it is at the correct level for their age and emotional well-being. Sharing information at the right level for the child can also avoid confusion. Stick to appropriate facts and reassure the child about their safety.

· Do not lie- it is important to consider the age of the child and decide how much information is appropriate for them and will not unnecessarily scare them. However, avoid telling a child an ‘untruth’ as the truth can come out (from other adults or on the television). This could damage the child’s trust in you and this can make them feel unsafe and insecure. Difficult information should be delivered to the child in a way that is appropriate for them and so that they can understand. As a parent or an early year’s educator you know the child well, think about how they may respond and what they will understand. For example, it is very difficult for a small child to understand death and that they may not see a family member again. For further information on supporting children to understand death, please follow the link to a very useful article, Marie Curie. Talking to Children About Death. Available at:

(Accessed:7 April 2020)

· Take time to listen- make sure that you give children time to express themselves, with your full attention. Use open-ended questions to help the child to express themselves, for example what did you see or hear? How do you feel? Do you have any questions? Use active listening skills (this means giving full attention to the child, commenting on what the child is saying and making sure your body language shows you are interested, for example by making eye contact, facing the child, nodding and looking interested in what they are saying).

· General events-talk ab