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Helping Children Cope with Crisis: Caring for Yourself

COMFORTINGSharing information through writing is something I sincerely enjoy in my work as a clinician. Working both as a school psychologist in a public high school as well as a therapist at Wasatch Family allows me to interact with so many different people in any number of contexts. I am lucky to have many, many  interesting & insightful conversations, and am never at a loss for ideas to share here. Getting ready for this week, I had prepared something and had it ready to go.

Then I caught the news the last night.

Sadly, unbelievably, another school shooting has occurred.

I write that in isolation, nothing added to the paragraph because even with my close to twenty years of clinical experience, I am at a loss of what else to add. All of us, regardless of whether we have children in school or not,  likely feel some reaction to that type of news, though may experience or try to make meaning of it all  in vastly different ways. As I first watched the news, I must admit I was immediately shocked and then just overwhelmed with sadness. My significant other reacted with anger (“how could this happen again!”) My mother – anxious (“I worry about your nieces and nephews, they’re in high school!) My closest friend, who has a school age child, needed to not react (“I just can’t think about it”) and just pushed it out of her head.

Sadly, we’ve had ample opportunity to learn that, in fact, a range of emotional reactions following a school or community violent event is normal.

As I’ve continued to connect with family and friends (many who are teachers or therapists), we’ve continued to talk about the stress of having several numerous violent acts occur within what feels like a short period of time. And as this national crisis continues, the question remains, it seems to those around me, how do we remain calm for our children when our own anxiety grows?  How will we be able to support families and kids through these tough times? How will be able to support each other?  We talked, as therapists, about the benefits of having each other, and how much it helps. There we were, scolding each other for working too hard, not taking better care of ourselves, needing to eat better etc. ( all in good fun.) How amazing it is to talk to a friend clear across the country who can hear in my voice that I’m a little tired and wore out; and subsequently ‘orders’ me to go have a Dairy Queen ice cream cone! It may not seem like much, but IT WORKS! Sincerely.

With that in mind, I’d like this week’s blog to focus on YOU, the caregiver. As therapists and psychologists who work with students and school staff who have experienced trauma, we receive extensive training on ‘caring for the caregiver.’ Research supports that clinician’s who work with trauma patients are at high risk for burnout and must take extra precaution to care for themselves in order to remain effective in their work.So for each of you who are modeling calm when you are less than 100% sure that is what you are feeling, and who are holding steady, presenting a solid & consistent space in which your child’s feelings can be validated, here are some tips to minimize your caregiver burnout.

1.  It is extremely important to monitor your own reaction (to the event and subsequently) and to take care of self-needs.

2. Know your limitations. Enlist a friend that you feel comfortable being honest with (i.e. “I don’t know how to answer Jen’s questions anymore and whenever she brings up the subject I start to get nervous..)

3. To the extent possible, maintain daily routines (especially physical exercise, meal times, bed times). Connect with trusted friends and family.

4. Give yourself permission to do things you find pleasurable.

5. Talk about what’s on your mind. Be specific – ‘when Jen asks about this, I’m not sure what to say…’

6. As much as possible, try to get some restful sleep.

If you feel that you are struggling, it will be very hard to present as calm and in a way that is comfortable for your kids. Talk to trusted family and friends. Try these suggestions for preventing caregiver burnout. You are faced with a tremendous challenge, raising self-reliant, successful children in turbulent world.  At times, brief counseling can be helpful to talk through some of our own adult thoughts and feelings as we face these challenging times. Just remember, you do not need to do any of this alone and there are helpful resources available should you need them.








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