Teaching Children Disaster Coping Strategies
In the last few years we have seen enough tragedies to upset and frighten anyone. However, a child's anxiety is different from an adult’s anxiety. Children are much more concerned about their personal world and want reassurance that they are safe. Explaining these tragedies to children is important and parents can show their children how to cope without fear.
Even if adults have their own fears, it is important to empower children with a level of protection and comfort.
Be honest with your kids and be available
Share your feelings about the news you see
Create an open dialogue. Tell your kids 10 and up your version of the news.
Let your kids know the difference between news and reality
Explore the facts with your child
Acknowledge the complexity of the news
Help children use creative outlets, such as art and music, to express their feelings
Reassure children and help them feel safe
Support children's concern for people they don't know
Look for feelings beyond fear
Help children and youth find a way to think about the event and move forward
Take action and get involved in positive action to help alleviate others' suffering such as raising money for the victims
Children under ages 5 or 6 need clear reassurance that their world is safe, without details about a situation they cannot understand. A more detailed response is helpful with adolescents. More difficult ages are 6 to 11 , when children are old enough to prevent shielding them from the details of a disaster, yet not old enough to understand the details. Give them clear, simple explanations, always keeping in mind the underlying context of reassuring them that their world is safe.
When parents are anxious, children pick up on those feelings and personalize it. It’s important for parents to share their anxieties with other adults, their spouse, friends, etc., and protect children from it to some degree.
The way kids handle this very much depends on how their parents handle it. If they believe their parents feel the world is out of control, it’s much scarier. So it’s critically important to give their children a sense of security.
Hurricane Katrina has been devastating to watch as we see what has happened to our neighbors in the Gulf Coast region. It is much better to nurture children and reassure them that they are loved and safe …rather than hide the news from them. Being available for your children, listening to them and talking to them will give them coping mechanisms to deal with their fear.