When one thinks of people in crisis, children are usually the furthest thing from their mind. The fact is that children endure crisis just the same as adults. The difference is that their coping skills are limited due to the fact that their brains are not fully developed and their cognitive abilities are limited. Children endure crisis in all kinds of ways. Some have been traumatized due to a natural disaster, others by divorce, death, foster care, asthma or because of a mental disorder. This paper will discuss some of the different types of crisis that children endure and the effect that the crisis has had on their lives.
Children in Crisis Everyone has encountered a crisis at some point in their life. What might be a crisis for one individual is not a crisis for another. A crisis can be defined as “a perception or experiencing of an event or situation as an intolerable difficulty that exceeds the person’s current resources and coping mechanisms” (James, 2008, p. 3). If an individual does not get help with overcoming their crisis then the crisis could have a severe impact on their behavior as well as their cognitive functioning. James, 2008) A crisis becomes a crisis in ones life because they do not have the knowledge of how to handle or deal with their current situation. They are often times paralyzed emotionally and mentally which leaves them feeling out of control of their lives. When one thinks of people in crisis, children do not usually cross their mind. The truth of the matter is that children endure crisis just like adults do. Most adult who experience a crisis are unable to help their self and they definitely are not going to be able to help their children.
Children do not have the same coping skills as adults and often times end up needing psychiatric treatment as a result of crisis in their lives. Children can endure crisis in many ways. Some, but not all, of these ways are through experiencing natural/man-made disasters, others by divorce of their parents, death of a friend or relative, being placed in foster care, having a childhood illness such as asthma or because of a mental disorder. These children, like adults, need help to therapeutically process through the crisis in their lives.
Crisis most always means that one has lost someone or something. Children need help accepting their losses and expressing their painful emotions in appropriate ways. Children are resilient, but they also experience feelings of fear, anxiety, guilt, anger and sorrow. It is important to help children understand that enduring crisis is an opportunity to see God at work in their life. Types of Crisis That Children Endure A natural or man-made disaster is something that many children across the United States have had to deal with.
Many of these disasters have been compounded by having a crisis within a crisis. An example of this would be the traumatic events of September 11, 2001. This was a crisis that no one was prepared for and unfortunately because of those who died in this horrible attack, many children were left without one or both of their parents. These type of events leave children “terrified, not only by the event, but by their own thoughts and feelings” (Gaffney, 2006, p. 1005) regarding the event. Children who experience this type of crisis often seem as though they have lost touch with reality.
They might not be able to clearly communicate about the crisis and many times are mistakenly labeled as “poor historians” (Gaffney, 2006) because they are not able to sequence the event correctly. This is because the child’s “brain’s ability to process, retain, and recall information has been compromised by the trauma” (Gaffney, 2006, p. 1006). They have trouble identifying their feelings and placing appropriate emotions with those feelings. This leaves the child with unresolved issues and a picture in their mind that they are unable to verbally describe.
It is expected that children who endure this type of trauma will “exhibit transient to long-term behavior changes” (Gaffney, 2006, p. 1010). This behavioral change can be anything from biting their lip to withdrawing socially. In order for the child to begin the healing process after a natural or man-made disaster, one must help them to understand that they will never forget the people or things they have lost, but their pain will become easier as time goes by. Divorce is another crisis that many children endure that leaves them in a shattered world of hopes and dreams.
Divorce for a child means that life as they once knew it will never be the same. Children who have parents that divorce often times have to begin living new lives. They are required to conform to two different standards of living which represent two different sets of values. These children are experiencing conflict at all times due to having disgruntled parents. These parents lose their ability to support their children because they are focused on their own feelings of not being supported by their spouse. Divorce can create loyalty issues for the children and cause them to feel as though they have to take sides and dislike the other parent.
A divorce can interrupt a child’s emotional and educational development. A child’s age will cause them to respond to divorce differently. Preschool children “have an incomplete and confused understanding of what has caused such a radical change in the family routine” (Henning, 1977, p. 55). The child’s ability to cope is very limited and the most common emotion that they experience is fear. They are unable to verbalize their feelings, but replay pictures in their mind of the verbal and sometimes physically abuse they have witnessed.
School aged children are magical thinkers and envision the parents getting back together by working out their problems. These children are easily manipulated by gifts or tokens and like the idea of being able to “get whatever they want” (Henning, 1977) from the other parent. These children often worry about who will care for them if the other parent dies or becomes ill. Adolescent children are more prone to experience anger and depression during times of divorce. These children are more apt to participate in deviant behavior as a way of expressing their emotions concerning the divorce.
Their academics suffer and students who were making good grades begin to fail. The biggest issue for “children during the divorce process is that the adults involved in marital strife are not looking for ways in which to help their children adjust to the transition, but are searching for ways to implement their own personal life readjustment” (Henning, 1997, p. 56). Experiencing divorce can actually be a form of death in a child’s life. The death of a parent, friend or loved one is one of the most disturbing experiences that a child will ever face.
Death, especially of a parent, leaves the child feeling scared and alone. They do not believe that others truly understand what they are feeling. They desire for the one they have lost to return to them. This often leaves the child with painful memories of their loved one. Children will “cry easily, lose interest in eating, or experience physical discomfort” (Gaffney, 2006, p. 1008). In order for these children to heal, they must first deal with the symptoms they are experiencing as a result of their traumatic event.
Then they must have help walking through the grieving process. Gaffney, 2006) This same grieving process is experienced by children who have been placed into foster care. Although their parents have not physically died, their life as they once knew it has. It is reported that approximately “40,000 children in the United States live in out-of-home residential care facilities” (Ulrich, 2005, p. 13). This does not include the number of children that are entering therapeutic foster homes on a daily basis. These children are removed from their homes, families and environments to be placed in unfamiliar surroundings. Then these children are expected to flourish.
These children enter into a state of crisis because they feel that both them “and the situation are about to be out of control” (Smiar, 1992, p. 149). They are told that they now have a new family, will start a new school, and have to make new friends. They are told by their caseworker that they can trust them. Then the child finds out that the caseworker has moved on and a new caseworker has been assigned to their case. This was the individual who was supposed to be “responsible for their safety, stability, well-being and permanence” (Strolin-Goltzman, 2010, p. 7), yet they are now gone. This creates problems related to emotional and physical stability for these children. They have lost trust in the adults in their life due to a series of unhealthy relationships and take on a non-caring attitude. This non-caring attitude will often cost the child their current placement mainly if the family is not prepared to handle aggressive, defiant behavior. These particular children spend the remainder of their time in foster care moving from placement to placement.
Their life is forever changed at the hand of “caring adults” who want them to experience a better life. It is the constant changing in one’s life along with unresolved emotional issues that cause these children to end up in a psychiatric facility and then diagnosed with a mental disorder. According to research ,“one in 5 children has a diagnosable mental health or addictive disorders, and 2 in 10 has a serious emotional disturbance that significantly impairs functioning at school, at home and in the community” (Mellin, 2009, p. 501).
It is suggested that the “prevalence of serious emotional disorders is higher among children who are in state custody than in the general population” (Lyons, 1997, p. 312). This is due to the risk factors involved prior to the children being placed into foster care and because of the separation from their biological families which have now created emotional and behavioral problems in the child’s life. The child’s behavior can become out of control and beyond what a therapeutic home can provide for. It is at this time that they are referred to the psychiatric hospital.
These hospitals become a place of transition into a residential treatment facility. Once again, these children have endured yet another move. They have now been given a diagnosis that leaves them with the assumption that they are crazy and beyond repair. Many children end up with a dual diagnosis because of genetic disorders or childhood illness. One childhood illness that creates crisis in a child’s life is asthma and the “current prevalence of doctor-diagnosed childhood in the United States is estimated as 7%” (Nicholas, 2005, p. 245).
Asthma causes recurring periods of wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. The coughing usually occurs at night or early in the morning. Children with asthma often have to reduce or limit their play due to their asthmatic symptoms. During an aggressive asthma attack, these children are not able to breath appropriately and are faced with a fear of death. It is for this reason that they must have an asthma action plan in place, take their prescribed medications, and live in a preventative environment.
It is important for the families of children with asthma to create a safe and healthy environment for them to live in. This can be done by eliminating tobacco smoke, animal dander, using dust covers for bed mattresses, and making sure that the home is free from pest and rodents. These steps are prevention measures only, they do not eliminate the crisis the child can experience due to not being able to breathe appropriately. Children with asthma would benefit from therapeutic services while learning to cope with their childhood disease.