In these troubled times, the likelihood of some kind of disaster happening to or around us is always a possibility. Helping a child deal with the effects of witnessing a natural, or unnatural disaster is something that no parents plans on doing. Disasters can be very frightening for adults and are even more so for children who are not necessarily mentally equipped to handle some of the stress that comes with it. During a serious disaster, a child could see his or her home destroyed, lose all of his or her possessions, be hurt or see others hurt, as well as witness destruction and even death. All of these things can cause a child to be extremely fearful and frightened after the disaster has occurred. Childrens anxiety treatment or therapy may be necessary for them in order to understand and regain their childhood.
A child who has been through a disasters is very likely to:
Part of the way your child will choose to act after a disaster is related to his or her current developmental stage. Preschool aged children are likely to be excessively clingy and have nighttime fears and not want to go to bed. They may change their normal behavior patterns. If they are usually docile or shy, they may become loud and aggressive or vice versa. Older children in the preadolescent range may experience some of the same effects that younger children do, but that may also have angry outburst or complain of different kinds of physical ailments. They may withdraw from their friends and have problems concentrating or paying attention. They may begin to compete for your attention and revert to some child-like behaviors. Adolescents are more likely to have reactions similar to adults but they will also likely show some of the symptoms similar to the other mentioned age groups.
Here are some keys to helping a child and the rest of your family make it through a disaster experience:
Communicate openly and honestly with your child. Let him or her know that this disaster was no one’s fault and there was nothing to be done about it. Help him or her to understand that sometimes things happen, but he or she is safe or will be safe soon.
Your first instinct is likely to not talk about the event because you do not want to upset your child more, but talking about it is actually healthier than ignoring it. Not talking about it may make the recovery harder than it would be otherwise.
Children are the most comfortable when they have a routine to follow and know what is expected of them all the time. Try to establish and maintain as normal of a routine as possible.
You and your family are going to need some time to grieve about your situation. You are all going to need time to heal. While it is best for your child to continue to follow family rules and behavior standards, know that he or she is going to be testing some limits and making some new “normals”.
While talking about the disaster as a family is helpful, letting your child be steeped in disaster news coverage can make his or her fears a little worse. News coverage tends to be sensational and focus on the other bad news associated with the disaster. These kinds of things may cause your child to relive some of his or her experience which is not going to be helpful.
Finding some age appropriate chores or tasks for your child will help him or her feel involved and useful. If our child can help your family recover, his or her fears may be a bit assuaged.
It is completely natural for children to have some very real fears after they have experienced a disaster. But, as a parent, you can help your child work through and manage these fears so that your child will not experience any longer term development difficulties. It may seem like too much to ask when you are also dealing with the effects of a disaster, but using a little extra understanding and a little extra patience and time with your child will be a great help to him or her. If being able to do this for your child seems like too much right now, get him or her into counseling immediately. The longer your wait, the further his or her development could be effected.
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