All children go through difficult experiences. Even things like moving to a new house, starting school, going to the doctor or dentist, or getting a new sibling can be stressful for young children. And some situations can be very difficult for young children and families, like losing a loved one, or going through a separation in the family.

It can be hard to figure out how to help your child in any of these situations, but the secret to success is actually quite simple: You.

The presence of a loving and supportive caregiver is the single greatest protective factor in a child’s healthy development. Just being there is the best way to help your child learn to deal with life’s challenges.

When something difficult happens, stay present with your child. Knowing that a loving and supportive parent is there is the best way to help make your child feel safe. Use gentle touch to make your presence obvious: give a hug, hold hands, or keep an arm around your child. Use words to reassure your child and validate his or her feelings. Say something like, “It’s okay to be a little scared on your first day of school, but I think you’ll have fun in your new classroom!”

Whenever possible, let your child know in advance when something is about to change. Sometimes the scariest part of change for a child is not knowing what is going to happen. Talk about it with your child and answer any questions as truthfully as you can to remove some of the mystery.

When difficult situations come up that catch you both off guard, it’s okay to speak honestly about your own feelings, as long as your emotions are under control. For example, it’s okay for your child to know that you are sad when you both experience a loss. But if you don’t feel like you can manage your own emotions, make sure you get the support you need from a close friend, mentor, or professional counselor.

You know your child better than anyone else. Continue to get to know your child and enjoy the things that make him or her unique. Building a strong and healthy attachment is what will protect your child from the negative effects of stress, and will give your child the strength to be resilient, even into adulthood.

How have you navigated stressful situations with your children?


Joanna Love is a Licensed Professional Counselor who provides in-home therapy to families of very young children with significant behavior and emotional problems.

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