Helping Your Children Through a Crisis

Facing a Crisis Together

Our world came to an abrupt halt a few months ago. My husband was heading to the emergency room, having lost consciousness after physical training with friends. Nothing prepares us for that type of shakeup.  It’s especially complicated when you have young children watching. In this post, I’ll share the steps I took to help my five and six-year-olds through their father’s stroke and recovery.  

Helping My Children Feel and Express Their Feelings

Raised in a family that was a bit too honest, I scrutinize what I share with my kids.  I do lean on the side of transparency with my children. My response to my husband’s emergency was that daddy had a bad boo-boo inside of his head and that he may not be able to come home.  My daughter cried and screamed, “I want my daddy,” while my son calmly asked questions.  Encouraging them to embrace their emotions, I didn’t try holding back my tears.  I responded to their questions honestly, including when I didn’t know the answer to “will daddy be ok”?  I suggested that we pray to God to bless us with daddy’s return. 

Listening to and helping them express their verbal and nonverbal expressions of worry, sadness, and frustration played an essential role in their processing of that event.  Expressing myself rather than avoiding my feelings or distracting them from the situation was equally critical.

Open communication including active listening are crucial helping our children in a time of crisis.

Open communication including active listening is crucial helping our children in a time of crisis

Over the month my husband spent in the hospital, we developed a systematic way of reflecting on and expressing our feelings of each day.  We would end our day in bed together, saying what made our hearts happy, and what made our hearts sad.  This practice of reflection has also helped my children create a deliberate practice of gratitude. 

Getting Back Into the Familiar Routine

Because my husband’s initial recovery took place an hour away, I kept the children home from school with family for a week, to be with him through the day. While they felt good seeing me helping care for daddy, my daughter became eager to get back to her school routine. 

It’s easy to assume that kids would welcome a break from their routine, especially school, but the opposite is true. According to Healthychildren.org, “As soon as reasonably possible, try to follow old routines because they provide comfort and a familiar structure to a child’s daily lifeFor example, get her back in school and do not cancel celebrations like birthday parties or after-school activities that she enjoys”.  Our daughter was ecstatic to get back to school. According to her teachers, Nohemi was her usual happy self, openly talking about what our family was going through. Since the event occurred a week before Halloween, we also dressed in our costumes to surprise their father. We also carried on with our quiet little Halloween party at home that evening.

My husband transferred to a local hospital for his last two weeks before coming home, so visiting him after school became manageable. It was an essential step in the children’s ability to see that daddy was still daddy, albeit there are some new normals that we’re all rolling with. Considering my husband didn’t know what many basic items such as pens and phones were initially, he is making steady progress. 

Let Children be Part of the Solution

This leads me to the last and what I believe has made the most impact on helping my children through this family crisis. Explaining that daddy’s boo-boo caused him to forget how to do many things, I presented them with an important task, framing it in a way that was familiar to them. Both of my children received speech therapy through early intervention, so now it was their turns to teach daddy. Jumping up and down with pride screaming “yay,” they were eager to do their parts in helping daddy recover.

Allowing your children to help in a time of crisis gives them a sense of control and boosts self-esteem.

Allowing your children to help in a time of crisis gives them a sense of control and boosts self-esteem.

Nohemi joyfully reads to her father every night. Derik feels accomplished helping daddy with small tasks around the house that he has trouble with. Presenting my kids with the opportunity to help their father allowed them the chance to take back a degree of control in a life-changing situation that hit without warning. Witnessing the gains that their father makes, and knowing that they’re playing pivotal roles in his recovery has been a tremendous boost to their self-esteem.  

Remember that we help our children develop their ever-evolving self-awareness.  When a crisis hits, allowing our children to establish a president of their ability and value in difficult times is priceless.

Your Mindset in a Family Crisis

Of course, our children take their cues from what they see in us. The best defense in masterfully navigating our children through a crisis is having a solid grip on our mindset, including our self-talk. Becoming self-aware of our internal dialogue allows us to steer the narrative away from total helplessness, to having a degree of control over aspects of the situation.  Being proactive rather than reactive will enable us to empower our children in these types of situations

Our family go-to for increasing our positive self-talk are positive affirmations before school. Not only have I escaped the grips of sporadic depression, but I’m also conditioning my children’s brains to remain in growth rather than a fixed mindset. For more on how to develop positive self-talk, read this post.

To learn how to create a growth vs. fixed mindset, read this post.

Have you had to guide your family through a crisis? What do you feel helped to empower yourself and them?

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