Supporting Children Helping Parents:
Principles to Guide Support
Principles to Guide Support
Each child and family are unique, as are the cultures, neighborhoods, communities, states, and countries in which they live. Yet child development research and experience suggest several principles that can be usefully adapted and applied to the process of helping very young children and families cope with the potentially overwhelming impact of events—as long as we leave room for exceptions and recognize the likelihood of additional unexpected events and complicating factors.
Help young children feel the security of being safe, protected, and nurtured by the adults who care for them. In the long run, the reactions of young children to tragedy and violence, as transmitted through insulating relationships with their parents and other primary care-givers, will determine how the child feels and reacts to terrorism and the danger of bioterrorism. A co-determinant is what the child brings to the encounter, including the child’s temperament, developmental tolerances, and cognitive capacities.
Combine adult availability, the simple reassurance provided by daily care, and an openness to “questions without question marks.” Attempting to prescribe what a particular adult should try to explain to a particular child is inappropriate—there is no curriculum or formula to follow. However, we can talk with parents and caregivers about giving permission for the child to be curious and concerned about the consequences of threatening, tragic events. Of equal or greater importance is that the timing and “dosage” of adults’ explanations and answers in response to the child’s concerns and questions should comfortably fit the child’s cognitive and emotional tolerances and capacities. Simple explanations may be the best responses to direct questions, fears, and the “questions without question marks” that children ask through sleep, eating, play, or other behavior. Being matter off act, limiting discussion to what has been raised by children’s questions, comments, or in play, provides permission for the child to know what he or she is capable of knowing, and facilitates learning in a continuing and coherent manner about what unfolds from the consequences of the threatening, tragic events. Indirectly, this principle may also enable the caregiving adults to cope with the fear that “our world will never be the same” and that a heightened, tension-producing sense of risk and danger may become a permanent feature of our everyday experience.
3.When appropriate, enhance the “insulation” that parents provide. If a parent is panicky, disorganized or grieving and depressed because a family member, friend or colleague has been killed, the insulation of affectionate reassurance, protection, and guidance is at risk. Then other adults with a close relationship to the child can supplement that calming, stabilizing insulation that an other-wise well-functioning primary caregiver provides.
Albertj. Solnit, M.D. Sterling Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist Child Study Center, Yale University. Commissioner
Excerpted from “Supporting Children Helping Parents: Some Questions and Principles”, Zero to Three Journal, December 2001/January 2002 (Vol. 22:3)