How Are Your Children Coping During Crisis?

November 13, 2020

As adults, we are at our best when we can calmly and systematically approach a challenge. Sometimes, however, the stress of a specific situation seems so overwhelming or threatening that it is hard to maintain a logical presence of mind. Your teen faces the same challenges. It can be equally as hard for them to manage stress, especially if they are facing a crisis. It is important to keep in mind that your adolescent or teen may try to hide their struggles due to fear, shame, or a sense of responsibility to avoid placing a burden on others. Also, some teens may not know how to talk about feelings and emotions; however, changes in their behavior may indicate that they are struggling to cope.

Recognizing Signs of Stress in Your Teen

While every teen displays emotion and fear differently, there are some common signs you can look for that may indicate your child needs additional help, such as talking to a Southern California teen therapist at Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center.

First, you may notice your teen’s “normal” mood or behavior has changed. While teenagers are often dubbed moody in general, look for changes in mood that are not usual for your child. For example, you may notice ongoing irritability, expressions of hopelessness, and frequent conflicts with friends or family. Also, look for behavior changes, such as your normally outgoing teen suddenly showing little interest in texting, communicating with their friends, or participating in events and activities they once enjoyed. You may even notice the change in sleeping patterns, eating patterns, or difficulties concentrating and focusing on schoolwork. Their appearance may change as they may become less interested in basic personal hygiene or change how they dress.

Many of these symptoms are frequently related to other mental health conditions as well. Therefore, it might be difficult to tell if your child is struggling with emotions related to a crisis or if there’s an underlying mental health condition that needs to be addressed. Regardless of the cause, if you notice any of these changes or a change in your teen that is not listed above, consider reaching out to your primary care provider or a mental health provider to discuss your concerns.

Ways to Help Your Teen Cope with Crisis

The world can be a scary place for children of all ages. Unfortunately, it seems the reasons to be concerned continued to grow. One need only turn on the news each day to see what feels like a never-ending stream of upsetting events. This situation is most certainly made worse by the 24-hour news cycle and the near-constant social media stream, which promotes easier than ever before access to up to the minute information. In a time of crisis, protecting your child’s emotional well-being is as important as guarding his or her physical safety. Below are some practical strategies you can use to help your teen cope with their emotional responses to frightening situations, whether they’re watching them from a distance or facing them in person.

Communicate Openly About the Crisis

Open and honest communication with your teen is essential to fostering a sense of safety and well-being during the crisis. Use your child’s age and emotional response to gauge how you communicate about the events or situations. No matter what age, it is best to avoid absolutes such as stating, “that will never happen to us” or “things like that don’t happen here.” Be sure to bring the conversation back around to a positive note by emphasizing that there are good people (family, teachers, other loved ones) who can and will continue to do everything they can to keep them safe.

It can be tough to know precisely how to start a conversation amid the emotions of a crisis. It could be most helpful to use open-ended questions to get the conversation started. Ask about what your teen is hearing from friends. Or maybe about what kinds of conversations they are having at school about a particular issue or event. If your teen is not ready to talk, let them know that you are there and willing to have a conversation whenever they are ready. Keep the lines of communication open but do not apply too much pressure. Provide opportunities to write and draw if that is how your child communicates best.

After a traumatic event or through a crisis event, it is essential to spend as much time with your child as possible. Sit down for family dinners and chat before bedtime. Take a walk or even take the time to go to a movie. However you choose to do so, the idea is to increase your visibility, and the opportunity for connection when you’re teen is ready to open up about how and what they’re feeling.

Take A Media Break

Today we are surrounded by media. From the television to smartphones and tablets, to the newspaper display at the supermarket, it seems as though it’s impossible to escape the barrage of news reporting. This can be both a blessing and a curse. While any of the above are great tools for keeping us connected to the world, local events, family, and friends, during times of crisis, the provided information can become too intense and too overwhelming for teens (and many adults) to handle. This may result in increased fear and trauma. Although you cannot completely shield your child from media outlets, you can be aware of what’s out there and be prepared to discuss it with your teen.

If possible, it is important to limit the exposure to, or even take a complete break from, social media and media coverage during a crisis. For older children, who typically get their news from social media, be mindful of the amount of time they spend on their phones or tablets. It can be very complicated for older adolescents and teens to control what they do and do not see online. You can help by taking a family “digital break” while at home. This may help keep your teen (and you also) focused on more positive activities instead of reading online comments and watching emotionally charged videos about a tragedy. For example, instead of sitting on the couch on phones and iPads, go on a family hike, watch a funny movie together, or even play a board game. Do whatever is necessary to remove news media from the forefront of your teen’s mind, even if for a brief time.

Encourage Giving

Providing your teen the opportunity to feel positive during the time of a crisis strengthens their resiliency and can help to bolster their overall sense of well-being. Seek out activities you can complete as a family related to the crisis. For example, if the situation is a natural disaster such as a wildfire, find a local organization with a food or clothing drive you could donate items to or offer your time to help collect and distribute items to those in need.

Be A Model for Healthy Crisis Coping

Your teen will look to you not only for reassurance but for guidance on how to deal with their own complicated and potentially overwhelming emotions. Allow yourself enough private time to process what you’re going through so that you have the capacity to be there for them. Take the time to practice good self-care so that when your teen looks to you, they see how you are successfully handling the crisis. Don’t feel as though you need to hide your signs of distress all the time. It is OK that your teen sees you are upset and sees how healthy coping strategies can help to manage emotions. Be sure that you, as a parent, have people you can communicate with about your feelings as well.

When to Seek Help

Emotional reactions in the face of trauma, natural disaster, or another crisis are perfectly natural. It is normal for both teens and adults to cry, feel anxious, or get angry during an event that stirs our emotions. In many cases, your teens feeling of anxiety, guilt, confusion, or despair following the crisis will start to fade in a relatively short time. However, if the traumatic stress reaction is so intense that it interferes with their ability to function at school or home or if the symptoms do not begin to fade and become worse over time, they may need help from a mental health professional such as those at Hillcrest. When traumatic stress symptoms do not resolve, it may be a sign that your teen is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, and a treatment program at a residential teen treatment center may be the best way to help them learn healthy coping strategies to counter their symptoms.

When seeking mental health treatment for your teen during or after a crisis, it is essential to seek a therapist trained in trauma-informed care. A mental health professional skilled in evidence-based, trauma-informed treatment can help your teen and your family move forward towards recovery. Trauma-informed treatment is based on the understanding that the impact of trauma may be lifelong and affects each person differently. The trauma-informed approach does not involve trying to distinguish symptoms from the effects of the trauma. Instead, it recognizes that symptoms are often the response to trauma. Choosing an inpatient residential treatment center like Hillcrest to help your teen and your family walk through the emotions and challenges of crises helps to improve opportunities for treatment success and long-term recovery. If your teen is struggling to cope during a time of crisis or to recover after the crisis has passed, please contact the caring and compassionate admissions staff at Hillcrest in Agoura Hills today.