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10 Things You Can Do Now to Help Others During a Challenging Experience

by Mark D. Lerner, Ph.D.

Chairman, The National Center for Emotional Wellness

When faced with the opportunity to help those who are living through a challenging experience, it's common to feel uncertain about how to best assist them. Following are ten things you can do now to address the emotional needs of others:

1. Be there and listen. It’s generally not what we say that helps people the most, it’s often what we don’t say.

2. Be empathic. Try to communicate an understanding of the feelings behind another person’s words. (e.g., "It sounds like you're worried about....")

3. When appropriate, use physical touch or a warm embrace.

4. Instead of being an expert in solving other’s problems, strive to become an expert in helping others to find the answers within themselves (e.g., “If you were the way you would ideally like to be right now, what would you say?”).

5. Tell people what they need to do when their safety, or the safety of others, is compromised (e.g.,

“You need to share this with your family.” “We need to notify the police, now.” “Let’s turn to your doctor.” etc.).

6. During challenges and change, try to normalize and validate other’s experiences (e.g., “This must be scary, I’m here for you.”), instead of using cliches (e.g., “It could have been much worse.”).

7. Realize that children, particularly young children, take their cues from the adults around them. When asked, tell children the truth at a developmentally and personally appropriate level.

8. Share with others that it's okay not to be okay when they're experiencing a....

9. Keep others’ thoughts and feelings in confidence—unless they present a danger to themselves or others (if so, call 911).

10. Know that people never forget what others do during peak emotional experiences. Be there and listen.

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