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How crisis affects middle childhood development

In this article, you will read about some ways which a crisis or change may impact the four main areas of development in middle childhood.

Change and crisis

Change and crisis can impact development in many ways. While some impacts are negative because they disrupt children’s ability to feel secure and to safely explore the world, change can also present an opportunity for children to grow as they adapt to new situations.

Many factors in an individual child’s life – such as access to material and psychological resources – play a role in influencing how crisis actually affects development.

Below are some ways in which a crisis or change may impact the four main areas of development in middle childhood that we covered in the previous step.

1. Language and Emotions

When faced with a crisis, children might struggle to understand their own feelings or to communicate effectively about their needs and experiences.

Times of transition often involve complex and changing emotions. For example, school closings, family relocation, or changing routines might give children feelings of confusion, uncertainty, or worry.

Young children may seem unaffected or unaware, while older children may express anxiety or anger. Children may have different feelings at different moments: sadness about saying goodbye to friends might be replaced with excitement to explore a new place or create a new schedule.

Different emotions at the same time

Children may express different emotions at the same time and maybe overwhelmed and not understand the many things they feel.

Children may be unable to communicate these complex feelings and may express their needs non-verbally and indirectly.

This can manifest in the form of changes to daily sleep, eating, and body care routines, withdrawal, or emotional and behavioural outbursts – such as crying or “falling apart” at unexpected times.

Bedwetting and other physical regressions are a sign of distress and should not be punished; instead, adults should attend to emotional and behavioural changes with consistent and responsive caregiving and support.

2. Regular opportunities to talk

Regular opportunities to talk can help children process feelings in constructive ways while continuing to build language, self-awareness, and self-expression skills.

Adults can talk about their own feelings, ask questions, and help children identify new or complex emotions. Naming feelings can be a helpful tool for children experiencing change or loss. Children might have concerns or curiosity about the crisis/situation and may ask frequent questions to better understand it.

Listening to children and sharing age-appropriate information will support children’s development as well as their understanding of the situation, which can ease uncertainty or fear.

Concern for Others

During crisis or transition, children might have difficulty relating to others’ experiences. Each child, family, or community may be impacted by the same event in different ways.

Young children tend to focus on their own immediate circumstances and might struggle to imagine or empathize with others who are having a different experience. Older children are more likely to think about and empathize with others.

Practising perspective-taking

Adults can support growth in this area by practising perspective-taking: have a discussion about different circumstances and invite children to explore what it might feel like to be “in someone else’s shoes.”

In addition, older children might see a crisis as an opportunity to help their community. Children ages 7 – 9 have growing capacity and awareness of how they can contribute to their home or neighbourhood. Finding ways to help others during a crisis can provide older children with a sense of purpose.

3. Thinking and Understanding

During crisis or transition, children may have trouble focusing or remembering information. They may be distracted and struggle to complete schoolwork or other responsibilities.

Children may need more time and adult support than usual in order to complete daily tasks – and may benefit from visual reminders such as written schedules or checklists.

The change also presents the opportunity for children to expand their thinking and understanding. Children may ask “big questions” and talk about the event or the future in ways that are or are not, realistic or accurate.

Building an understanding of the world

Having conversations can help children build their understanding of the world and support the development of abstract thinking.

For example, explaining why schools are closed or how long until they re-open (e.g., drawing or using a calendar to mark the passage of time) can build children’s capacity to think about cause-and-effect relationships or think about the future.

4. Relationships and Play

Lastly, relationships and play may be altered by crisis or transition. If children are unable to interact with peers, they may feel isolated or lonely. They may have limited opportunities to practice social skills like taking turns, cooperation, and negotiation with peers.

Feelings of uncertainty may lead to a lack of confidence in exploring new things. Alternatively, children may be eager to play games, be physically active, and engage with caregivers or siblings in joyful and silly ways.

Children often use imaginary play to explore and act out their feelings and experiences. Adults can support healthy development by continuing to engage in daily play and relationship-building with children.

If you’d like to learn more about coping with changes, check out the full online course, from the LEGO Foundation, below.

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Coping with Changes: Social-Emotional Learning Through Play

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