The Truth about How Children Respond to Crisis

Joyce Talag

In Touch Volunteer

“Children are like their parents’ mirrors,” Dr. Sue explained. “They reflect how we respond to crisis.”

Since the enrollment season started in June, I have encountered many parents who are extremely worried about how their children will cope with the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Online communities are ablaze with petitions for tuition fee reduction and mounting concerns on well-being and safety. Privately, parents open up about their fears and frustrations about the uncertainty of the situation. Emotions can run high during these times.

I recently talked to Dr. Sue Estanislao, a counseling psychologist at In Touch Community Services, to seek solutions on behalf of parents like me who are caught up in the midst of a critical turning point in the global education system, and I was surprised by what she revealed to me in the beginning of our conversation.

“Children are like their parents’ mirrors,” Dr. Sue explained. “They reflect how we respond to crisis.”

Dr. Sue draws this conclusion from her nearly three decades of  counseling experience and research as an academic service  faculty at the De La Salle University Manila. According to her, children are generally more resilient than what adults give them credit for. They know how to cope through their own language and play; they can distract and soothe themselves.

Because of the Internet, most children now are more informed and sensitive to what is going on around them. The latter includes the behaviors that their parents exhibit during this crisis, which children have the tendency to model. Dr. Sue alludes to a popular Filipino saying, “Ang maling gawain ng matatanda nagiging tama sa mga bata. (The mistakes committed by adults become right in the eyes of children.)”

“But these are unusual times!” I told Dr. Sue. Parents are increasingly stressed having to work, tutor, and guide their children all at the same time while in quarantine.

“The key is mindful parenting,” Dr. Sue replied citing  with a smile then walked me through a simple 5-step strategy for parents who are experiencing stressful situations now.

A nice day with Mama and my cousins

1 – STOP what you’re thinking and doing 
This needs no explaining. Just decide to stop and take a moment.

2 – BREATHE and focus on your body
Breathe using the diaphragm, counting through four while inhaling and six while exhaling through the nose, and making three repetitions of the cycle. Another variation is the 4-7-8 breathing technique, which is to inhale for four counts, hold the breath for seven counts, and exhale for eight counts through the mouth in a whistle. (If you want to see how diaphragmatic works, look at this demo video by another In Touch counselor.)

3 – NOTICE what’s happening in your mind and body
Observe the thoughts and sensations in your body since you stopped and started breathing. What emotions are you experiencing? Are these static or changing?

4 – REFLECT on your hotspots
Some helpful questions to consider: a) What time of the day have you become emotionally unavailable to your children? b) What could be your emotional triggers to your reactions? Is there a story to the experience you are having?

5 – RESPOND accordingly and appropriately to the situation
Using what you have learned about yourself and your situation in the last step, what would be the most appropriate way for you to respond? Make a conscious decision on how to respond.

Living in borderless worlds where there are no longer boundaries in time, space, and the roles that parents have to perform can make parents become so reactive that they end up feeling exhausted. Practicing SBNRR technique on a regular basis until it becomes a habit may just be the key to guiding children through the COVID-19 crisis and the adjustments that everyone has to make.

#InTouchStoriesofHope aims to bring you mental and emotional relief during the COVID-19 pandemic through the inspiring stories and perspectives of In Touch community of counselors, volunteers, partners, and clients.

Dr. Susana “Sue” A. Estanislao is both a Registered Guidance Counselor and a Registered Psychologist. She has been in the counseling profession for  nearly three decades now helping children, adolescents, and adults deal with life challenges and mental health conditions. During her 40 years of employment at the De La Salle University Manila, she served as a Counselor, Administrator, Counselor Supervisor, Assistant Researcher, Evaluation and Testing Coordinator, Consultant, and a Teaching Faculty. She is now connected with the San Pablo Colleges, Laguna and St. Scholastica’s College, Manila where she teaches Psychological Assessment, Counseling Theories, Psychotherapy, Group Dynamics, and related subjects. Her research work focuses on Managing Psychological Distress, Depression, Suicide Prevention, Resilience, Counseling and Career Development, among others.

Feature Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash




New US Regional Psychiatrist Visits In Touch

Keeping In Touch: (from left) In Touch Head of Psychological Services Unit Dr. Julian Montano, Mental Health Services Lead Myrtle Almando, US Embassy Medical Unit rep Mimi Thein, US EMU Regional Medical Officer Psychiatrist Andrea Ross, In Touch Executive Director Mike Calleja, In Touch Foreign Liaison Program relationship managers Marielle Mikkelsen and Daisy Pope-Brien.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


For any immediate or in-the-moment emotional support, call our 24/7 CRISIS LINE. Our professionally trained responders are on standby to assist you.