MEETING THE CHILD’S EMOTIONAL NEEDS
Children’s reactions are influenced by the behavior, thoughts, and feelings of adults. Adults should encourage children and adolescents to share their thoughts and feelings about the incident. Clarify misunderstandings about risk and danger by listening to children’s concerns and answering questions. Maintain a sense of calm by validating children’s concerns and perceptions and with discussion of concrete plans for safety.
Listen to what the child is saying. If a young child is asking questions about the event, answer them simply without the elaboration needed for an older child or adult. Some children are comforted by knowing more or less information than others; decide what level of information your particular child needs. If a child has difficulty expressing feelings, allow the child to draw a picture or tell a story of what happened.
Try to understand what is causing anxieties and fears. Be aware that following a disaster, children are most afraid that:
• The event will happen again.
• Someone close to them will be killed or injured.
• They will be left alone or separated from the family.
REASSURING CHILDREN AFTER A DISASTER
Suggestions to help reassure children include the following:
• Personal contact is reassuring. Hug and touch your children.
• Calmly provide factual information about the recent disaster and current plans for insuring their safety along with recovery plans.
• Encourage your children to talk about their feelings.
• Spend extra time with your children such as at bedtime.
• Re-establish your daily routine for work, school, play, meals, and rest.
• Involve your children by giving them specific chores to help them feel they are helping to restore family and community life.
• Praise and recognize responsible behavior.
• Understand that your children will have a range of reactions to disasters.
• Encourage your children to help update your a family disaster plan.
If you have tried to create a reassuring environment by following the steps above, but your child continues to exhibit stress, if the reactions worsen over time, or if they cause interference with daily behavior at school, at home, or with other relationships, it may be appropriate to talk to a professional. You can get professional help from the child’s primary care physician, a mental health provider specializing in children’s needs, or a member of the clergy.
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