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|Help Children Cope with a Disaster|
|News Releases - General Info|
|Written by Joy Venhorst|
|Thursday, 16 June 2011 12:21|
AMES, Iowa -- Coping with a disaster can be difficult for children and their families, says Lesia Oesterreich, a family life state specialist with Iowa State University Extension.
Children may have many different reactions. “Children may become upset or cry easily, get angry or act out, become restless or have difficulty paying attention,” she said. “Some children may be quiet and withdrawn, while others can’t stoptalking about the experience.”
The ISU Extension specialist noted that changes in a child’s behavior may be signs or symptoms of distress or discomfortfollowing a disaster.
Oesterreich said following a disaster, some children may be afraid of the disaster recurring, or become anxious when thereis rain, storms, sirens or other reminders.
Help children cope
Keep children informed. Responding to a crisis limits time for conversation, but parents should make an effort to talk regularly with children. A one minute chat throughout the day can make a world of difference in a child’s level of understanding.
Speak simply and honestly about the situation. Explain to your children what is happening to your family. Use simple words they can understand. Be honest. Keep children informed of a problem that will directly affect them.
Make time to comfort and reassure your children. Just a moment of your time, a gentle hug or a reassuring word may be all children need to feel safer and more secure in an emotional situation. Involve children in the family’s efforts to prepare for or recover from a disaster. Remember to keep assigned tasks safe and age-appropriate. Let them know you appreciate their efforts to help the family. Pulling together through adversity will strengthen the family in ways that will last long after the crisis is resolved.
Help young children understand the disaster. Young children sometimes think they are responsible for causing a disasteror that the disaster is some kind of punishment for something they did. You can explain how tornados, storms or floods happen, and how these are unusual but natural patterns of weather.
Reassure children about the family safety. Because young children sometimes have difficulty understanding complexsituations, they can easily exaggerate their normal fear of being separated from their parents.
Maintain routines or rituals of comfort. Dinnertime at the kitchen table or a story or a favorite teddy bear at bedtime may provide young children with a sense of security.
Put words of acceptance to your children's feelings and experiences. Say something similar to “Yes Tommy. It’s OK to cry. Taffy (the family pet) will come back to our house when we return too. For now, Uncle Ned will take good care ofher.” Be a good listener and supporter.
Show children models of courage, determination, coping and support. “Daddy was up all night putting sandbags around the house. Our neighbors are doing the same. We are all working together.” Point out ways of coping that you use. “WhenI feel sad I think of the good times we have had and remind myself that things will be better soon.”
Seek professional advice if needed. Contact your physician or mental health agency if you are worried about your child showing symptoms that are severe or lasting too long. You also can call ISU Extension’s Iowa Concern hotline, 1-800-447-1985, or contact your ISU Extension county office.
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