Children cope with stress every day, but they may need their parents' help in dealing with a disaster. There are actions that parents can take to help their child cope with the threat of or experience of a disaster. Consider these tips for helping your children during a disaster:
- Limit the time children spend watching media coverage of a disaster. Repeatedly hearing and viewing disaster warnings can be very frightening to children. Keep an eye on what your children are watching and how much time they are spending with the TV coverage. Try to limit how much they see – and keep them away from the most graphic coverage.
- Watch for signs of stress in your children, such as being easily upset, angry, restless, afraid, ill or quiet and withdrawn.
- Talk openly about what is going on. Give simple, direct answers to questions. Children have "radar." They know when adults are afraid or worried and not telling them the truth. They hear other adults talk. It doesn't help for adults to tell a child "not to worry," yet show all signs of worry themselves. Take time to talk openly, honestly and often.
- Listen to your child. Watch him or her at play. Often children express fear and anger when playing with dolls, trucks or friends after a major disaster. Acknowledge those feelings and encourage the child to talk. Teachers often can do this as well or better than parents because their emotions are not as closely tied to the child's.
- Reassure your child, "We are together. We care about you. We will take care of you."
- Hold your child. Provide comfort. A warm hug from Mom or Dad is important for children during this period. Close contact helps assure children that you are there for them and will not abandon them.
- Help "act out" with books, art, toys and drama. Work with modeling clay, paint, water play. If children need something to kick or hit, give them something safe like a pillow, ball or balloon.
- In a classroom, let other children help with coping. They can be helpful and understanding. They also can involve children at group time or in play activities.
- Spend extra time putting your child to bed. Talk and offer assurance. Leave a night light on if that makes the child feel more secure.
Parents can provide invaluable support and comfort when children are worried and stressed about disasters. Children need reassurance from their parents that they will take action as a family to be safe and secure during a disaster.