How to support children?

Understanding children’s well-being

When children are in extremely difficult life circumstances, they need special care and protection. Whether they are in an area of natural disaster or armed conflict or are exposed to the long-term impact of the COVID-19 epidemic, it is important to focus on their needs and well-being. At all stages of the crisis situation, children are very vulnerable. This increases the risk of losing custody, exploitation and causing them other harm.

Children’s ability to overcome difficult situations and their emotional resilience depend on several factors. These are family and life circumstances, a sense of belonging to the community and recognition, as well as their age and gender. Helping children in difficult situations can return them to everyday life, increase resilience in overcoming difficulties and help prevent long-term negative psychosocial consequences. Although children are very different from each other, there are certain common factors and opportunities that affect the level of their emotional stability. These are protective factors that provide psychological “cover” and help reduce the negative psychological consequences of the difficulties or suffering experienced.

Protective factors for emotional stability:

  • Individual characteristics: sense of one’s dignity, healthy communication skills with peers and positive relationships with adults who show care.
  • Creating a positive environment in the family that provides love, care, support, understanding, discipline, justice and a good example to follow.
  • Friends who are role models, who accept a child and give them joy
  • Positive experience from teachers and mentors at school. It contributes to the general well-being of the child, provides an opportunity for development, improvement of skills, knowledge and self-confidence.
  • A healthy community plays a crucial role in ensuring recognition and protection. It contributes to the growth and development of the child, involving them as a valuable member of the community.

Three areas – skills and knowledge, emotional and social well-being – provide a foundation for understanding how psychosocial support programs and activities can affect a child’s well-being. For example:

Skills and knowledge: conflict resolution training; improving communication with peers; the ability to make the right choice.

Emotional well-being: hope for the future; a sense of security and control; self-esteem and self-respect, understanding of their emotions and the ability to cope with them.

Social well-being: the ability to interact; solving problems with others; a sense of belonging to the community.

Activities, that provide psychosocial support, are numerous and varied. Here are some examples: Psychological First Aid for children, Home Based Care, activities at school and outside of school (during which children can play and restore trust and confidence), creating child-friendly spaces, and more.

How to support well-being of a child in times of emergency

(armed conflict, pandemic etc.)

Children, just like adults, feel and experience changes in their lives related to crisis events. Yes, daily rituals and routines are very important for children. They wake up, have their breakfast, go to school or kindergarten, spend time with friends.

When an emergency occurs, such as a pandemic, armed conflict, natural disaster, etc., the child’s usual rhythm of life is disrupted. They may become anxious, confused, scared, or even aggressive. This can be expressed in the fact that the child changes their usual behavior and may show increased shyness or opposite – anger, increased desire to contact or refusal to communicate, regresses to the behavior of younger age (for example, finger sucking, carrying a toy with them, etc.)

In these circumstances, it is important to support children and help them cope with the changes they are experiencing. What can be done to improve the child’s well-being?

  • First of all, accept what your child is feeling, no matter what emotions are expressed.  Try to show only positive emotions by your example to transmit this mood to your child. Be as calm as possible in your words and actions. This will create a safe space for the child
  • Hug your child, if they want to, and let them “snuggle” with you. Tactile contact can be an additional way to give your child a sense of security.
  • Talk to your child about the situation. Explain in simple terms what is happening and that it will end in the future. Show them that you listen and care.
  • Tell your child that you care about them and will be there for them, especially if they need support or just a hug.
  • If you are in isolation or quarantine, follow your child’s daily routine. Wake up on a regular schedule, have a breakfast, get dressed, and do activities with your child in the morning.
  • You can create an online or offline group where children can communicate using modern Internet platforms.
  • Children can also make video calls to communicate and play together.
  • Try to limit your exposure to media news and social media to avoid additional worry and anxiety.
  • Create your own family hours where you can spend time together and communicate. This can include board games, watching videos, a reading club, and more.
  • It is important to give your child a sense of control over themselves and the situation. Involve them in family plans making. Make lists of things to buy together, choose it all together, check in with friends and relatives via video or phone.
  • Take care of your own emotional and physical state – do breathing practices, yoga, meditation, or anything that helps you calm down and relax.

You can join the psychosocial support events organized by the URCS for children by contacting the regional organization of the URCS in your city and finding out about the availability of relevant events.