Helping Children Cope with Natural Disasters
These disasters are overwhelming to all of us but can be even more devastating to children. Without really understanding the whys, children can feel scared and insecure. Even children who do not personally experience the trauma but see the events on TV and hear adults discussing the destruction can feel strong emotions. Try to limit the amount of time watching TV where so many traumas are highlighted. After watching TV together, talk about what is being portrayed.
Exposed children may start demonstrating fear or sadness. They may act out or revert to bedwetting, sleep problems, or separation anxiety. For many children, these reactions may be brief but some children may be at risk for psychological distress. This is especially true if they were directly involved and had to be evacuated, lost a pet, or experienced a real life-fearing ordeal. Children that experienced on-going stress by living for a while in a shelter or somewhere else, loss of friends and social networks, loss of personal items, hearing parents worry over unemployment and costs of recovery may be more at risk.
Children’s coping skills are often learned from their parents. They can sense adults’ fears and sadness. It is important parents and other adults take steps to manage their own feelings and plans for coping because they are the best source of support for their children. One way is to have children become a part of planning before disaster strikes so they know what to expect and have a sense of control. After a disaster include the children in the family recovery plan.
Don’t leave children out of discussions. Encourage the children to share their thoughts and feelings. Clarify any misunderstandings. Listen to what the child is saying. If they have difficulty expressing themselves, ask them to draw a picture. Give out a lot of hugs. Calmly provide factual information and plans for safety. As soon as possible get back to your regular routines.
If your child continues to show stress or his behaviors start to cause him trouble at school or with other children, it might be the time to talk to a professional like the child’s doctor or clergy. Look for support networks or start one for yourself.
Looking forward, preparing for disasters as a family helps everyone accept that disasters do happen and gives the family an opportunity to collect the resources needed to meet basic needs during and after a disaster. When families feel prepared, they cope better and this includes the children.
Jonda S. Beattie Professional Organizer