Most definitions of the term ‘crisis’ include something about reaching a pivotal moment, a turning point, for change. But those definitions leave a little something to be desired in conveying what it feels like to be in the middle of a crisis. Nowhere in the official definitions is it expressed how a person might feel paralyzed, unable to move forward with various aspects of life. Neither do those definitions explain how a person may become agitated to the point of aggression.
Right now, we, as a society, are in the middle of a crisis and we have seen all different kinds of reactions from panic to anger to disregard. For a lot of people, it is hard to understand why others are behaving the way that they are. It is hard to understand how or why someone else responds to situations differently than we do and that misunderstanding has the potential to cause tension and conflict.
And if that is how adults respond to a singular crisis, how much more difficult would it be for children who live in a constant state of crisis?
Displaced children often live for an extended period of time with the knowledge that everything in their world can change in an instant. They never know how long they will be somewhere or who they will be with. They don’t know if they will ever go back to the life that they knew, if they will ever see their families again, or if they will have to find and adjust to a whole new life. And while they are in the midst of their extended crisis, their reactions are going to have the elements as that of an adult’s—panic, anger, and disregard.
Children experiencing a crisis are going to lash out in ways that seem unreasonable to adults. They are going to cry at the drop of a hat. They are going to get angry about the littlest things. They are going to act as though a lot of things don’t matter. And these reactions are going to frustrate caregivers that may not understand that underneath the behavior is a state of emotional turmoil—a turmoil that they are not equipped to manage on their own.
These children require guidance and patience from their caregivers; they need to believe that the person they are depending on is not the same emotional state they are in. There is no benefit to an adult “losing their cool” when the child they are interacting with is just as confused and conflicted as they are.
Some of the best ways a caregiver can provide support in a time of crisis include offering physical space for the child to identify their feelings, listening to the child talk about their feelings without interrupting or giving opinions, and working with the child to find a solution to the current problem. Helping a child feel heard during a crisis and including them on the process of reaching a solution has the potential to create a relationship between that child and the caregiver which may help mitigate future crises.