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Parenting in Times of Vulnerability & Challenge

Many parents struggle to help children comprehend what’s going on in the world—in ways that are age-appropriate and that they can understand—including how to manage feelings, find a sense of calm, and develop coping skills. Here are some practical strategies for parents to help children who may experience fear, dismay, vulnerability, or confusion during challenging times.

  • Provide a safe, comforting, and dependable environment. This might involve increasing communication with teachers, grandparents, and other family members; making a concerted effort to adhere to normal routines insofar as possible (including play and day-to-day activities); and providing quiet times during which to chat, sit or read together, to relax, or hug. Be there when you say you will be.

  • Stay composed, and be attentive to children’s questions and concerns. Don’t dismiss children’s desires to learn about things or to express themselves. Rather, listen carefully and respectfully and offer support—such as offering to find out more about what’s being done to alleviate matters. For example, technological advances; preventive and collaborative measures; the role of first responders; the importance of kindness; and the positive impact of supportive relationships. Be honest when answering questions but avoid complexities, and provide only as much information as a child can handle. And, set limits on exposure to media. It’s counterproductive to focus too much on troubling circumstances.

  • First things first. Parents should strive to take stock of their own feelings, and to get their anxieties and emotional responses in check. (As per the airline rule about putting on your own oxygen mask before affixing your child’s.) This means developing coping strategies—such as strengthening support networks, and using trusted sources of information—and then demonstrating learned strategies to children.

  • Pay heed to signs of undue stress. Warning signs or “red flags” might include changes in a child’s sleep patterns, eating habits, health, or activity levels; academic decline; or mood swings. Seek professional help, if needed, from someone with expertise in children’s emotional or physical well-being.

  • Encourage children to express their ideas and feelings creatively. For example, this may be through music, drawing, or journal writing. Check out the article Creative Expression: A Source of Solace and Strength—with six different ways children can think and act so as to embrace creativity, resilience, and optimism. And, in the article Can Creativity Help Children Get Through Challenge? the emphasis is on creative energy—with four questions for kids to ponder and three tips for parents to help children become more relaxed and confident during difficult times.

  • Talk about resilience and courage. Share inspiring stories and help children understand that reflection, bravery, and strong family ties can be ways to confront challenges, and to create meaningful ways forward.

Even the most capable child may feel vulnerable or confused during troubling times. Parents can help children feel safe and confident by offering reassurance, connectivity, and support; by conveying hope; and by modeling resilience and their own means of overcoming concerns and adversity.


This article is an updated adaptation of a piece written previously by the author and published on an educational news site.


Dr. Joanne Foster’s most recent book is Ignite Your Ideas: Creativity for Kids. Readers can find further information about optimal child development by checking out her website at


Joanne Foster, Ed.D. is a parent, teacher, gifted education expert, educational consultant, and multiple award-winning author of eight books. Dr. Foster’s work focuses on supporting and encouraging children’s well-being—including their intelligence, creativity, productivity, and self-confidence.

Cover photo by Pixabay

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