(Deep breaths, friends, hope this helps you and your family. Let us know!)
Children will take cues from the adults to see how worrisome the situation is. Adults need to lead with confidence and assurances that everything is being done to keep them safe. Limit exposure to scary or frightening social media images, especially for young preschool and elementary children. Be real and honest when kids ask about questions about the future. Talking points such as, "I don't know what will happen but I do know everybody's doing what they can, and that our family will stick together and we will follow our emergency plan." Try and limit your exposure to social media, while we can sign up for alerts and stay informed, we also can be present in the moment and hold space for our teens and children to check in on how as a family unit we are handling ourselves and practicing our self-regulation skills.
It is important to tell children, without overly alarming them, about disasters ahead of time. Talk about things that could happen during a disaster, such as the lights or phone not working, distance learning being cancelled, or needing to evacuate.
Tell children there are many people who can help them during a disaster, so that they will not be afraid of fire fighters,police officers, paramedics, or other emergency officials. Share with them how you find posts on social media filled with hope of the sheer amount of people power out there rising to help one another.
Children respond differently to disasters than do adults. Sometimes it is difficult to tell if/or how severely the child has been affected by the disaster. Here are some common issues that arise in children and how parents can help their children cope after a disaster.
• Children and Their Daily Routines. Disasters disrupt our lives in a variety of ways. All disasters whether big or small can change our routines. From school closures to the need to stay in a shelter, children’s daily routines undergo a number of changes. Children rely on their routines and changes to these routines can lead to anxiety and other problems. Every effort should be made to return to as much of a routine as possible. This can help children adjust and cope to the after effects of the disaster. A Positive Discipline tool like family meetings, where you share compliments and appreciations for one another can be hugely comforting in these moments.
• A Child’s Imagination and Fear. A child’s imagination is a beautiful thing. However, after a disaster this imagination can lead to fear and worry. Parents who stay calm and provide reassurance can help children decrease their worry. It is important to be honest about the situation keeping in mind each child’s age and maturity. Try and dive into your child's world and allow a little bit of comic relief, and silliness help you through these tough uncertain times. That being said, noticing when you have "flipped your lid" or when you are dysregulated is important, be kind and compassionate with yourself. You are doing great and are only human. Deep breaths and hugs go a long way.
After a disaster, it is common for children to be afraid that:
• The event will happen again.
• Someone they care about will be injured or killed.
• They will be separated from their family.
• They will be left alone.
After a disaster, parents should make every effort to reassure children that the event is over, everyone is safe, and that the family will stay together.
Common Behaviors after a Disaster. Children may:
• Go through a personality change. For example, a quiet, obedient and caring child may become loud,
noisy and aggressive or an outgoing child may become shy and afraid.
• Be upset over the loss of a favorite toy, blanket, teddy bear or other items.
• Have nightmares or be afraid to sleep alone or with the light off.
• Become increasingly clingy, and cry and whine more than usual.
• Revert to younger behavior, such as bed-wetting and thumb sucking.
Children’s Psychological Needs Following a Disaster:
Parents should remember that the psychological effects of a disaster do not disappear once the event has passed. Children can show signs of psychological trauma in the form of nightmares or other problems for up to two years. Children need help and support as soon as possible. Some children may not exhibit signs of distress for weeks to months after the disaster, while some may never show such signs. It is important for parents to closely observe children’s behavior. By recognizing problems quickly, parents can access resources for their child to receive extra counseling or attention. Our Positive Discipline support and learning groups can be of support to you, let us know how to best support and hold you along with the many other incredible and local non-profits ready and eager to stand by you.
How Can Parents Help Children Cope After a Disaster.
• Talk with children about their concerns and fears. Allow them time to figure out how they feel about what they have gone through.
• Listen to children’s concerns, fears, and feelings. Don’t judge them for their fears or concerns. Try to understand their feelings despite how irrational you may think they are. Reassure children that the family will stay together and that they will not be left alone.
• The most important role a parent can play in an emergency situation is to stay calm. Provide reassurance through your words and actions.
• Remind children that it is okay to be afraid. They do not need to be brave or tough and that it is okay to cry.
• Include them in recovery efforts. Give them tasks that they can safely get done to empower them and help them see that everything is going to be all right.
• While many things will be out of their control, point out those things they are still in control of and allow them control over simple things such as what to wear, what to eat, or what bed to sleep in.
• Allow them special privileges, such as keeping on a night light while they sleep, for a time after the disaster.
• Find ways to let your children know you love them.
• Turn Off and Log Off. Today, we are forever plugged in to the events around us through television and social media.
While these tools allow us to stay up to date on a disaster, they may have a negative effect on children. Television news stories, especially those with images, will upset children. Repeated news coverage may make them think the disaster is ongoing or occurring again. Social media posts of photos and videos from the child’s community can be more damaging. Also, wrong information posted to social media could hurt children even more. Parents should limit children’s access to TV and social media and make sure that they talk to their children about things seen or read.
Some Helpful Activities.
• Have children draw or paint pictures that show their thoughts and feelings about the event and their experience during and after.
• Have children write a silly rhyme or story about the frightening event.
For example, start with:
• “Once upon a time there was a terrible ___________ and it scared us all.
This is what happened:_________
• Make sure to end the story with: And now we are all safe and sound.”
• Sing or create music with your children. Music may help reduce stress; it’s good therapy
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Final reminder: Be kind to yourselves. We are all living through A LOT. Hold yourself and your family with compassion.
Sending you all warmth, gratitude and prayers,
Stephanie Barron Lu