Helping Preschoolers with Stress

Seeing images of natural disasters and hearing adults talking about them can create anxiety in young children. Over the past several weeks, we have all watched the tragedy of Nepal’s earthquakes unfold. Last week, multiple people were killed in a major landslide in Colombia. In the United States, we’ve recently seen multiple regions damaged by tornadoes and strong storms.

Preschoolers may experience stress reactions to these disasters even when they are not directly affected by them. Anxiety often arises out of feelings of powerlessness and lack of control. Very young children haven’t acquired the same coping mechanisms that adults, or even older children, have developed. Use these suggestions to help you talk to your preschoolers when they exhibit signs of stress related to seeing and hearing about natural disasters:

  • Let your preschoolers talk. Don’t interrupt in an attempt to quickly make them feel better. Listen closely to what they are saying about their fears and feelings. Validate their feelings: I know that you are afraid. You know what? Even grown-ups feel afraid sometimes.
  • Listen to your preschoolers’ questions and answer them simply. Don’t go into details that they don’t need to hear. Answer in concrete words that your little ones will understand.
  • Be honest with your preschoolers. It’s okay to tell them that natural disasters make you sad and afraid, too. You cannot tell them that a natural disaster will never happen where you live, but you can tell them that God always sends people to help us. Your preschoolers need to know that they can trust you to speak the truth.
  • Remember that preschoolers believe that they are the center of the universe. This mind-set will cause them to personalize natural disasters. They may become frightened that they are in immediate danger. If preschoolers are not in immediate danger, reassure them that they are safe.
  • Think of non-verbal ways that preschoolers can communicate their thoughts and feelings. Preschoolers may not be able to verbalize their feelings, but they can often draw a picture, build with play dough or blocks, and even move to music to share how they feel.
  • Find ways to help preschoolers do something tangible. Make and mail cards for trauma victims, or take preschoolers to purchase and deliver water or other items needed by relief agencies.
  • Remind your preschoolers that God is always with them, and that they can trust Him. Use the Bible thought, When I am afraid, I will trust in God (see Psalm 56:3).
  • Pray with your preschoolers. Use your prayertime to affirm that you can trust God and that He will take care of them. Talk about the Bible thought, God helps me. I will not be afraid (see Heb. 13:6).

You can create a nurturing environment where preschoolers know they are safe and loved. Mission Friends leaders have the perfect platform for helping preschoolers understand God’s care and love even in the midst of trauma. Ask the Lord to give you the words you need to help your preschoolers. He is able!

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