When world events like terrorism or random violence occur, it’s hard enough for adults to manage their feelings- but it can be even tougher helping kids to navigate. The CARE system was created by Dr. Chloe Carmichael to help adults find healthy ways to cope with anger or anxiety related to frightening world events. To use the CARE system with kids, first remember that your own sense of calm is important— so make sure you are doing the CARE system yourself or whatever other tools are best for you. To adapt the CARE system for kids, break it down into smaller pieces and modify it for kids. Here’s how to do that:
Consider: In this stage, ask questions about what your child is experiencing, and offer help labeling emotions if needed. Make sure you validate rather than try to tell your child not to feel certain things. You might mean well by saying, “Don’t be scared,” but actually, a child can find this invalidating. Instead, you might say, “Yes, it is a scary situation. Let’s see how we can help you feel safe. Do you want me to hold you?”
Act: This is an important teaching moment to share with children about how feelings are important information that can guide our actions in a healthy and appropriate manner. Of course, healthy and appropriate actions for kids are going to be different from adults in certain situations, but they’re still important. Depending on age and circumstance, healthy and appropriate actions might include being present with your child and facilitating a “Hello, I appreciate you” type of conversation with a police officer or community leader, writing a letter to your local congressperson, drawing a picture that connects with their feelings, or writing a letter to troops.
Reflect: In this stage, ask your child how it felt to take action. Encourage him or her to experience pride in having shown an interest in others, if that’s what happened. If the action was more centered around the child, like simply wanting to be held close and feel safe, then remind the child he or she can return for more cuddles anytime, whether they’re feeling scared or not.
Ease: Being given permission to ease into something else is a very important step for children. They need the adult to guide them that it’s okay to move forward. Something like, “Well, I’m glad we talked about that and spent some time on it together. Do you feel like it might be a good time for us to do something else now, like maybe go outside for a while?” lets the child know that while it is good to focus on whatever issue was causing the upset, it’s also good and perfectly okay to move forward and think about other things too.
If your child appears to need additional support, by all means take him or her to a psychologist specializing in children. Dr. Chloe’s office does not specialize in children; these exercises are not intended as treatment or medical advice. To find a good child psychologist in your area, go to www.findapsychologist.org or try www.psychologytoday.com. Your pediatrician may also have referrals to suggest. If you are a parent who would like individual therapy for yourself or couples therapy for you and your partner; or just a place to talk about parenting issues from an adult perspective, then please feel free to contact our office!