When Childen Need Help In Dealing With Disaster
Dear Dr. LeCrone:
I am the father of five children between the ages of 15 and 3.The community in which we live has experienced three disasters over the past two months. Our family has been impacted both directly and indirectly by all three situations, and my wife and I need suggestions in helping our children cope with the aftermath of these traumatic events.
-A reader in North Carolina
First and foremost, encourage the children to express their feelings and emotions. Helping them do so as soon as possible after the disaster occurs is helpful. Reassure children that such emotions as fear, bewilderment and sadness are normal and acceptable reactions.
Explain to the children the known facts about the disaster and attempt to help them understand at their level what happened.
Reassure the children of your love, care and concern for them and the security provided by you and your wife. Attempt to maintain a routine, calm, and predictable environment in your household.
Remember that childrenís responses to a disaster often mirror the parentsí responses. Parents who display a lack of ability to cope with traumatic situations often encourage their children to do the same.
Be sure that the children get plenty of sleep and proper nutrition, and discourage too much focus on media portrayal of the disasters.
Be aware that anger, sadness and fear are all possible emotions that parents and other adults may expect from children in the aftermath of a disaster. These children may begin to experience sleep difficulties and have trouble concentrating. Their appetites may change, and they may show a lack of interest in things that normally gave them pleasure.
Other problem behaviors, such as bed-wetting, a fear of being away from parents, and an increased frequency of such somatic complaints as stomachaches and headaches, are sometimes seen.
Children who were closely associated with a disaster may be more severely affected. Other factors, such as the childrenís past experiences with traumatic events, can greatly influence the way they respond.
Time is one of the most helpful elements in processing grief, loss and change, so donít attempt to rush your children through this process. Talking with the children and letting them express their feelings is a necessary and important part of the process of healing. Seek professional help if problems persist.
Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D. Copyright © 2007