If you have children or are close in some way to children within our community, have you been wondering how they are handling the post-flood stress and strain? Do you know families in the area with children or are you a family in which one of the parents may be living away from home during the week in order to keep his/her job in the valley? Or do you know a child whose parents may have lost his/her job or had hours cut to the point of significant financial strain on the family? What about kids whose experience of the flood has led them to fear of other types of disasters that could befall our community or their family? All of these are very real possibilities for many of the children within our community and it is important that we as the adults in their lives, are aware of this and provide them with the extra support and understanding they need at this time.
The following are some things to know about the impact of natural disasters on children and that which we as adults in their lives can do to help them through.
Children’s reactions to trauma are strongly influences by adults’ response. Children look to the adults in their lives to take care of them and thus are very astute at noticing and tuning in to the reactions of the adults around them. Acknowledge the fear and stress you may be experiencing but reassure them that they will be taken care of and life will return to normal.
Children should be allowed to express their feelings and discuss the event, but not be forced. Listen to and try to answer their questions and let them know their reactions are normal and expected. Some children’s concerns may be related to misunderstandings about things they have heard adults around them discussing or heard on television and news reports. Adults can provide correct information that can ease a child’s worry.
Look for ways to re-establish routines that were in place before the crisis. Tell the same bedtime stories, eat some of the same foods, and use or replace favorite blankets or toys.
Recognize that children mourn. Children feel losses but in a different way than adults. They may miss different things than adults and mourn in ways that may not be recognized as grief. It can be helpful to talk with children about what they miss from home, school or neighborhood. If mom or dad must be away from the family, reassure children that it will not be forever.
Keep in mind that children respond to events on a different timetable than adults. It may look as if they have not reacted to the event in the first days or weeks but months later may have difficulties. Do not let let a “cycle of silence” develop in which parents assume, because children are not reacting initially, that they may not need to talk about the issues. If children see that adults are not talking they begin to believe that it is not okay to talk about it. It is important to make sure that children know you want to hear their thoughts, feelings and questions.
Take care of your own needs and try to deal with your own reactions as well as you can with family, friends and other sources of support. You will be a better position to help and support to the children you care about if you are coping well.