"Children ages three to six may blame themselves," says Newberger. "Make it clear that they did not cause [the crisis] to happen."
She advises parents to "talk to children ages seven through ten in broad terms. In the case of a father being laid off, explain that these are economically hard times and other families are affected as well."
"Children this age are more likely to project outwardly," elaborates Andre. "They tend to show overt anger towards parents, peers, and siblings. They may also exhibit some irrational fears."
Newberger says young adolescents and teens are the most able to comprehend what is happening and how it affects them. Yet while they may have the greatest understanding, they may also have the strongest reactions. "Teens may exhibit signs of depression. They may withdraw or act out by using drugs or alcohol, or even stealing," says Andre.
Every age group needs reassurance to deal with a crisis. Families struggling through a temporary situation such as an illness or short-term unemployment can gain encouragement by recalling how they have endured troubles in the past.
Helping Kids Process It
Consider the following advice to help your children through a major upheaval:
"Sharing information about the crisis is not as critical as how you handle its aftermath. If something happens, it happens. Now you need to help the kids process it," says Andre. "A crisis can lead to the deterioration or the growth of a family. It depends on how you as a parent cope.
"Be reassuring without making promises you cannot keep. Try to see things from the child's point of view and anticipate his feelings. Allow the children to vent their feelings and don't retaliate if they act out as a result."
Newberger suggests that parents "involve children in problem solving. Each child can have a role, a sense that they are important in this and a help to the resolution of the crisis."
It is important to remember that children mirror their parents. If a parent is having trouble dealing with difficulties, it is likely the child will also. If the family is not coping well it may be time to consider outside counseling.
"It is time for therapy if things do not get better over time," Andre advises. "If children are exhibiting regression, thoughts of suicide, acting out, depression or bedwetting it may be time for family counseling."
"Parents might consider individual counseling if they cannot find other outside support. They should not dump their emotions on the children," she says.
Depending on the degree of the problem, it may be wise to notify your children's teachers of the situation at home, particularly since they work so closely with the children and will probably notice changes in behavior.
Since no one faces only one trauma during a lifetime, "grief work," as Andre describes it, is important. "If you deny there being a problem, the next time you will have that much more difficulty. If this situation is handled well, the next one will be easier."
Most crises pass with time and, according to Andre, generally do not leave behind any long-term effects.