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Help for Adults Who Help Girls

Even though a disaster may be far away, girls of all ages still need help coping. They look to the caring adults they trust.

This may come as a surprise. When traumatic events like the recent hurricane occur, the feelings that girls experience are basically the same as those of adults. What is different is how young people express themselves. This may actually be a time when we should encourage girls to “talk out” and “act out.”

In the aftermath of a traumatic event, adults have a unique opportunity to help girls work out their feelings.

Girl Scouts of all ages automatically look to their leaders or advisers in times of crisis. If you are a leader or adviser, the girls you mentor are depending on you as one of the caring adults in their lives. It's not about having all the right things to say; it's about providing a safe place for them to express their feelings.

How do you prepare a safe environment? Start with an understanding of your own feelings and thoughts. Girls actually "check" the adults around them to see if they can tolerate difficult feelings.They will also want to know your feelings. Be honest. Most importantly—be your most thoughtful, calm self.

Giving girls this safe environment is especially important because they haven't developed the ability to process events and stress. Adults have the language skills to talk out their fears, sadness, and shock, and to think abstractly about what has happened. Depending on their ages, girls will have varying levels of maturity in dealing with disaster, but none have all the words or the context to give this kind of relief to themselves. If these feelings remain unexpressed, they grow and create more confusion.

Feeling overwhelmed about what to do? You'll be glad to know many of the best strategies to help girls "act out" are ones that you already use in your meetings. So we'll start with tips to get girls talking.

Encourage Talk

The most important thing to do for girls is listen and offer reassurance. In order for this to happen you have to get them talking:

Answering Girls' Questions

Sometimes we're afraid to initiate a conversation because we aren't sure what to say or how to best answer questions. Here are some tips for how to answer girls' questions in a way that encourages discussion and provides reassurance. Remember, the goal is to keep the girls talking, so when they ask questions, find ways to listen, listen, and listen some more.

Ways to Help Girls Through a Crisis

Encourage activity and play

You've gotten them to talk, so now what? Remember, girls also need to “act out” their feelings, which they do through play and interaction with others. That's why Girl Scouting makes such a big difference during difficult times.Your support of girls' friendships and their social network is just one of the powerful tools you already offer in helping them deal with crises. Below are some good strategies for helping girls cope.

Provide Opportunities for Action

Routines

Use Your Support Structures

Additional Resources

Research on Girls' Emotional and Physical Safety

To navigate through stressful times, girls rely on caring, supportive relationships with others and they need to know that trusted adults and peers are there to help them through difficulties. Two publications from the Girl Scout Research Institute offer more insight into what girls need to feel safe—emotionally and physically—and how girls respond to traumatic events. Visit the Research Web page to find PDFs of Feeling Safe: What Girls Say and How America’s Youth are Faring Since September 11th (look under "Publications" and then "Original Research Studies").

Besides the many Girl Scout resources available to help you help girls, here are websites that offer excellent additional information:

www.pta.org/parentinvolvement/parenttalk/index.asp, National PTA

Debbie Karch is an independent consultant in New York City who develops customized training. She was on the development team and conducted trainings for the Comfort for Kids program founded by Mercy Corps, an international relief organization, in response to the September 11, 2001, attack on the United States. She has customized and delivered similar training for USA Girl Scouts Overseas


Adapted from LEADER, Summer 2005. © Girl Scouts of the United States of America.