Crisis situations are usually unexpected and virtually unpredictable, and therefore often linked with confusion. Their causes may be unpreventable- such as news of a family member's passing or heightened violence in the world-but religion, faith, and spirituality provide a framework for finding direction and meaning in the face of such dire situations. Enabling people to come to terms with loss, faith offers a connection to something beyond self, as it allows one to make sense of otherwise incomprehensible events. Such spiritual connections can be shared with children in order to calm and comfort them, and to aid them in their recovery from trauma.
Everyone responds differently to crises, regardless of whether the circumstances are deeply personal matters or universal situations. Some people are very vocal, vociferously expressing their state of emotional overdrive. Others internalize their emotional struggle, limiting their responses to the inquiries of concerned friends and relatives as they attempt to sort things out on their own. Nonetheless, everyone is affected by such events. In moments of crisis, adults can sometimes be too preoccupied with asserting control of a chaotic situation and maintaining composure. Such efforts, which can often drain every last bit of energy and focus, sometimes lead to greater uncertainty. Still, there is no question that when children are confronted with crisis, they turn to figures of authority for guidance; therefore, it is not entirely clear how adults should appropriately respond to children during crises. Engaging children in discussions concerning matters of faith and God-or simply the sense that there is something larger at work in the world-can support children experiencing traumatic stress factors. It may also provide them with skills for coping with difficult matters in the future.
A child, like an adult, may express different emotions as a reaction to trauma: anxiety, depression, obsession, confusion, numbness, unfocused rage, denial, or difficulty finding meaning. Any or all of these reactions are possible. For example, it is not unusual for a 3- to 6-year-old to personalize crises, feeling as though his unrelated actions actually caused the catastrophe. In order to help the child work through such feelings, adults must convey that they can understand the child's response without judgment. Adults need to listen and provide an opportunity for the child to express his view.
Often a child coping with trauma will question the role of God and/or religion. Adults should try and speak openly about the questions children have about God and religion, so that children understand that their concerns can be talked about and addressed. While young children often parrot what they've heard, they also generate a range of complex feelings of their own-sometimes expressing themselves in a manner that an adult may not understand or wish to condone. For example, a child may become "uncooperative" or "aggressive" during a crisis, and can often direct that anger toward God and/or religion. During crises, it is important to take a step back to appreciate and attend to feelings underlying children's behaviors. Aggression focused on God may veil fear or anger about God's perceived lapsed role in ensuring the child a sense of safety and constancy. In that case, emotional engagement is often more helpful than control, punishment, or suppression.
Listening to children's ideas and helping them recognize their feelings is much more useful than declaring what is "right" or "wrong." When adults talk about their own faith or tell stories about people who exhibited faith and admirable qualities during crises- qualities such as patience, hope, courage, and strength-they help guide the process of selfexamination. Such reflections may support the young person in developing a healthy relationship with God. When facing crises, some young people will encounter intense reactions, which serve as a means for coping. For example, both denial and shock may be reactions to a crisis. In denial, there is no acknowledgment that something very stressful has occurred and/or the intensity of the event is not fully experienced. Shock is a sudden and often intense disturbance that leads to a feeling of being stunned and dazed. While such reactions are usually temporary and may include feeling unpredictable, anxious, and nervous, preoccupation with the crisis-recurrent memories of the crisis, interference of these memories with everyday routine, and interruption in relationships- decreases gradually and subsides fairly soon after the crisis.