How do you begin to explain a natural disaster to a child? Earthquakes? Hurricanes? Tornadoes?
It’s difficult. Mother Nature. But in order for kids to understand, they must be taught about the reality of the situation, in a non-frightening way. We have all seen the devastation from the May 20 Oklahoma tornado, it is unfathomable and I am pulling for the affected communities. Pain. Disaster. Death. Nobody wants to live these nightmares.
Save The Children, an independent non-profit organization that works to create change in lives of kids around the world, has begun to mobilize staff and supplies in Oklahoma to provide support and relief to affected families. If your children have seen any of the coverage, or heard about it, Save The Children offers these tips to help kids cope with the aftermath of unforeseen disasters.
10 Tips to Help Kids Cope with Disasters
- Limit TV time. Watching television reports on disasters can overwhelm younger children who may not understand an event is being replayed and instead think the disaster is happening over and over again. Overexposure to coverage of the events affects teenagers and adults as well.
- Listen to your children carefully. Emotional stress results in part when a child cannot give meaning to dangerous experiences. Begin a dialog to help them gain a basic understanding that is appropriate for their age and responds to their underlying concerns.
- Give children reassurance. Let them know that if any emergency or crisis should occur, your primary concern will be their safety. Make sure they know they are being protected.
- Be alert for significant changes. Be aware of changes in sleeping patterns, eating habits,
concentration, wide emotional swings or frequent physical complaints without apparent illness. They will likely subside within a short time but if prolonged, we encourage you to seek professional support and counseling.
- Expect the unexpected. As children develop, their intellectual, physical and emotional capacities change. Younger children will depend largely on their parents to interpret events, while older children and teenagers will get information from a variety of sources that may not be as reliable. While teenagers seem to have more adult capacities to recover, they still need extra love, understanding and support to process these events.
- Give your children extra time and attention. They need your close, personal involvement to comprehend that they are safe and secure. Talk, play and listen to them. Find time to engage in special activities for children of all ages.
- Be a model for your child. Your child will learn how to deal with these events by seeing how you deal with them. Base the amount of self-disclosure on the age and developmental level of each of your children. Explain your feelings but remember to do so calmly.
- Watch your own behavior. Make a point of showing sensitivity toward those impacted by the disaster. This is an opportunity to teach your children that we all need to help each other.
- Help your children return to normal activities. Children almost always benefit from activity,
goal orientation and sociability. Ensure that your child’s school environment is also returning to normal patterns and not spending great amounts of time discussing the crisis.
- Encourage your child to do volunteer work. Helping others can give your child a sense of control, security and empathy. In the midst of crisis, adolescents and youth can emerge as active agents of positive change.
Would you like to help? Click here to help provide relief and support for children affected by disasters in the United States. You can also text TWISTER to 20222 to donate $10 to Save the Children and help the response effort. Standard rates apply.