Helping Children And Teens Cope With Disaster

It is hard for children and teens to cope with and understand disasters and tragedies such as military action, fires or earthquakes.
The response of your child or teen depends on his age, temperament and how closely an event affects him that is whether the event is affecting people he knows and loves. But don’t underestimate the impact of events around the world. Though your child or teen may not comprehend, he can still feel frightened and wonder whether he’s in danger. Media coverage, images and stories that are scary and graphic etc can make these feelings worse.
Post disaster, children may worry that it will happen again, that someone they know will be hurt or die, or that they’ll be separated from family.

Signs that your younger child might be afraid or in stress are:
• Bedwetting,
• Thumb sucking,
• Wanting to be held or being “clingy,”
• Having problems sleeping and eating,
• Throwing tantrums,
• Being agitated,
• Being afraid of the dark, or
• Complaining of headaches and stomachaches.

Your teen may pretend not to be concerned but don’t let such an act fool you. Strike a conversation with her and ask about any doubts or fears she may have. Teens can also:
• Become moody, less patient, argumentative and sad,
• Have trouble with sleeping or changes in appetite,
• Experience stomachaches or headaches, or
• Want to be alone or with others more than usual.

There are a few things one can do to help, as a parent-

  • You play a crucial role in reassuring your child or teen by staying calm and helping them understand and cope with their reactions.
  • Taking your child’s concerns seriously is the best thing a parent can do. Respect his thoughts and feelings. Don’t tell him his feelings are silly. Your child should know that it’s okay to be upset and his concerns are okay. But at the same time, take care to avoid talking about what happened over and over if your child is doing fine.
  • Check in to see how your child is feeling, but don’t force your child to talk until she’s ready. Sometimes children just want simple, reassuring answers. Encourage a younger child to draw a picture or tell a story about how she feels. Offer plenty of hugs and cuddles if your child needs them.
  • Talk about what you experience and how you feel when disaster happens. Try to be as calm and honest as you can, using words and concepts your child can comprehend. Your child will learn from your response and may feel better knowing he’s not the only one who is worried.
  • Reassure your child! Tell her how you ensure your home and community is safe for them. But don’t make any false promises or ones which aren’t in your control, such as saying there won’t be another earthquake or storm.
  • Maintain family routines. Routines normalize things and decrease the amount of time your child might spend thinking about the drastic events. It can also help your child sleep better at night and feel secure and comfortable.
  • Spend some family time together. Doing all those things that your child enjoys will help him feel more secure.
  • Limit screen time. News images can be scary and confusing and should not be watched over and over. If you plan to watch the news, do it together and turn off the television when you are done so you can talk about what is going on.
  • As a family, you can brainstorm about how one can help people affected by the events. Teach them the importance of community and rescue workers coming together to help and how humanity brings everyone together even in the darkest of times.
  • Talk about things that are happening around the globe. Your child will learn by listening to you. Read out books and watch simple videos about serious events and help your child understand in an age-appropriate way. This will help her to learn and also, it gives you a chance to correct any misinformation she may have heard.
  • Be patient. The stress of world events can also be hard on you, and make it more difficult to be patient with or listen to your children. Remember to take care of yourself as well.
    Be prepared. Teach disaster management and how to react in case of a disaster.

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