When there is a serious family problem, parents often wonder whether they should talk to their children or shield them from what is happening. The fact is, children pick up on all kinds of messages.And they take most things literally. Children take your comments-even offhand ones-seriously. That's why it is best to sit down and talk with your children. If you don't, kids come to their own conclusions about how bad things are, and usually their picture of the situation is much worse than reality.

Children depend on their parents for emotional security. When parents are tense, upset and inattentive, much of this security is gone. This piece includes ways to help yourselves as parents and more specifically some tips are given for ways to help your children cope with the stresses of the disaster.Accept your children's feelings and concerns. This usually requires you to really listen to your child. For example, when a child tells you: "I hate my teacher." the problem may not be the teacher but rather that your child still feels sad about things lost in the disaster, including the pens needed to do homework. It is important for you to take the time to ask your child questions that discovers the real cause of your child`s frustration.

By asking questions and listening, you give your child permission to tell you what is really wrong. When a child says: "I hate my brother," parents often say: "Oh, no you don't." Compare this response to how you talk to a spouse or a friend. If they said: "I hate my boss," you wouldn't respond by saying: "No, you don't." You would probably say: "Really? Why?" Parents can do that for children, too.

Being honest in a way that helps children understand the situation, without being unrealistically optimistic or pessimistic, will help you build a strong, trusting relationship with your children. Speak to your children simply; give them just enough information to answer their questions. Being honest sometimes means admitting that you don't know the answers to everything. When you tell your child what you don't know, also tell them what you do know to reassure them. Children who have experienced a natural disaster worry about the future. They wonder if there will be enough money for food and clothes and whether their family will have to move. When your children ask questions about the future, try to respond in a way that is truthful and makes them feel secure.

Contact: Sharon M. Danes, Family Resource Management Specialist, University of Minnesota
phone: 612-625-9273

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