Dr Pamela Chan
Sudden crises may happen in life. We may be either a sufferer or a witness of them. For some children, such incidents may induce physiological, cognitive, emotional, behavioural and social reactions. They may show signs of nervousness (e.g. rapid heartbeat, sweating and muscle tension), panicking, insecurity, fear (e.g. fear of darkness, imaginary monsters and strangers), emotional instability (e.g. being irritable, annoyed, tearful or moody), sudden appetite change (e.g. a sudden increase or decline in food intake) and sleep disturbance. Parents may watch out for these signs to assess the impact of an incident on their children. They may also find out how their children are doing by asking different questions such as “How’s your sleep?”, “How’s your appetite?”, “How do you feel?” and “What’s on your mind?” depending on the age of the children. In most circumstances, with support from the family, teachers and peers, these common symptoms will subside in a few days or weeks. If parents or teachers notice excessively intense or persistent reactions from children, they should seek counselling support (For more information, please visit the Mental Health@School website > Early Identification at the Selective Level > Community Resources and Helplines
When facing a crisis, adults should stay calm and manage their own emotions, and try their best to give their children a sense of security by giving them more attention and spending more time with them. Listening to the children’s feelings and thoughts is essential in helping them deal with their emotions. Parents should not ask their children to stop talking or not to talk about the incident again. Suppressing uneasy feelings may cause lasting harm. Rather, parents should encourage their children to express their feelings, listen to them with patience and comfort them, and avoid providing unsolicited advice or guidance. They may encourage their children to express themselves in different ways (e.g. by telling stories, through drawings and by making handicrafts), and let them know their feelings are normal so as to dispel their anxiety. As for young children, apart from keeping them company, parents may strengthen their sense of security through physical contact (e.g. hugging them and holding their hands). As pre-school children may express their emotions in non-verbal ways, parents are advised to closely observe their behaviours and their ways of playing games in order to understand the impact of the incident on them.
In addition, parents may help their children resume normal routines and activities as soon as possible, and avoid repeatedly discussing, watching or reading news or online information related to the incident. Parents of young children are advised to convey information that is comprehensible to them. Where necessary, they should screen out some of the news to protect their children from being adversely affected by rumours. In general, it is not necessary for parents to bring up the incident if their young children are not affected lest they experience unnecessary traumas or emotional disturbance. Parents may also help their children relax and divert their attention by arranging healthy activities for them, such as listening to music, playing sports, drawing and participating in activities they enjoy. Useful tips on taking care of children’s mental health are available on the Mental Health@School website (mentalhealth.edb.gov.hk) (Please visit the Mental Health@School website > Promotion at the Universal Level > Student Zone > E-poster for students - Self-care tips
29 July 2022