Helping children cope with disaster is a normal part of life. As grandparents, we have a unique opportunity to teach children positive coping skills related to the recent earthquake disaster in Haiti. The way children observe adults reactions to the disaster will also help them shape their own reactions and responses.
Even when disasters occur far away from home, a child is often frightened and concerned about how it will affect his/her life, and their parents, relatives, and friends. Some children even experience behavior changes such as sleep problems, irritability, anxiety, and other problems such as misbehaving at home or school.
The following are some tips on helping children cope with world disasters when they occur. While each child is different, it’s important to pay attention to what children say and provide them with positive coping schools as they grow.
- Allow children to talk about the disaster and avoid hiding it from them. Of course, it’s important not to watch images of the disaster over and over on television or other mediums. But don’t be afraid to let them know what has happened and talk in simple terms without unnecessary detail of the disaster.
- Communicate with children at their own level of comprehension. Talking to a 5-year old is different than explaining events to a 12-year old. Respect their age and talk at their level.
- Allow them to express themselves through conversation, drawing, playing, writing stories, or other ways that make them comfortable. Some children prefer activities to actually talking about the event. It’s easier to express their fears in writing or drawing.
- Reassure them that they are safe but don’t make promises that are unrealistic. For example, telling them that all of the children in Haiti are safe is far from the truth and will only cause more problems later. Unrealistic promises can lead to greater anxiety.
- Children learn from observation so they will listen to your conversations with others and watch your reactions to events. Make sure your responses are as positive as possible — especially when children are around.
- Let children know you also have anxieties or fears about the situation. But explain how you cope with those problems and teach them new coping skills.
- If your child or grandchild does not want to talk about the situation or event, then don’t force them too. Simply open the door to allow them to talk if and when they are ready. Some children are more oblivious to disasters than others and they will play and behave normally. Remember, each child is different.
- If children become overly worried or stressed about the event, it’s a good idea to contact their personal physician for advice and help.
- Depending on the age of the child, allow them to participate in fund-raising efforts or other activities to help those who were struck with the disaster. Teaching them how to give back and care for others is an important part of mentoring and life. It’s also a vital way to teach them positive coping skills.
Children develop new coping skills with every situation in life. A disaster is a terrible experience, even when we only read about it in the paper. Just like adults, children react to disasters in different ways and it is essential to help them learn positive coping skills. The time taken to listen to children and teach them positive coping skills today will give them lifelong skills for dealing with the future events in life.
As grandparents and parents, we have a responsibility to help children learn how to deal with disasters and negative situations in life. But taking advantage of the opportunity to help them become well-adapted with positive coping skills will also make them stronger and mentally healthier.
For more info: Visit American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry