Helping your Child Cope after a Natural Disaster.
When natural disasters – such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods - hit, they throw us off balance, disrupting our peace and daily routines. We may lose our properties, money, jobs, or even friends and loved ones and these take a huge toll on our physical and emotional health, and for a long time. But there are certain groups of people that are more vulnerable and worst hit by these physical and mental effects of natural disasters. Children are one such group.
After a natural disaster, fear, anxiety, confusion, and despair are then normal emotions we go through as a result of all we had lost. But for children, these emotions are even more intense.
Experts in child psychology note that children do not have adequate coping skills for dealing with tragedy; consequently, children often find these traumatic events overwhelming and harder to make sense of.
They may lose one or both parents, lose contact with their siblings or friends, or feel disconnected from the rest of their world. Some may even be victims of some physical effects of natural disasters such as burns, accidents, and physical injuries, which all leave them feeling depressed and anxious.
It is often a difficult time for children – and even more difficult than for adults – and adults have a huge role to play in helping children recover from a natural disaster.
These are some ways you can help your child recover quickly from a traumatic event.
1. Manage your feelings
Traumatic occurrences disrupt how we feel, think, and behave, and your child no less. The first step on the road to recovery is identifying these changes in you and then, helping them to manage theirs.
It helps your child to see that you are calm and stable. It provides a safety net for their emotions and helps reassures them of a positive outcome. If your child detects that you lose control in the wake of a tragedy, chances are their feelings will also be more labile.
However, try to be honest about your feelings. Normalize the fear, anxiety, and distress you experience but maintain a positive outlook about the situation. This helps your child understand their feelings and develop a positive outlook as well.
2. Listen to your child
Your child would probably want to make sense of everything that’s going on during a disaster. They may continuously ask about the safety of their siblings and friends or about their chances of getting back to their normal routine. It is important to not give your child information beyond their understanding, but the right amount that can allay their fears at that moment. But it takes listening.
Try not to dismiss your child’s questions or deflect. A huge part of supporting them emotionally and mentally through such period is listening to them.
3. Encourage Play
During a disaster, you may be isolated with other families in a rescue center and it may seem weird to your child why they have to sleep in and eat in a large hall filled with several people. However, encourage your child to interact with other children and engage in playful activities. This not only helps your child get through the period with time away from the emotional and mental effects of trauma, it expedites recovery and lowers the intensity of these effects in children who experience them.
Even after the disaster, encourage social interactions through playgroups. If they do not have many such connections, help them build more.
4. Return to normal routine
It is important to get your child back to his or her normal routine as soon as possible after a disaster. Get him or her back in school and engage them with activities that insulate them from the toxic emotional effects of a traumatic event.
5. Pay Attention to your child’s behavior
Carefully observe your child’s behavior and notice when they may need professional help. Does your child get excessively anxious, sweaty? Does your child now hate being all alone in his or her room? Does he or she withdraw themselves from social activities? Are they experiencing loss of appetite or poor sleep? These signs give clues about your child’s emotions and mental health after the incident and may require professional help for them to recover.
If you feel your child’s behavior requires support, ask for help from child psychology experts and stay connected to them as well as they journey through this phase.
Children are a vulnerable group during a natural disaster because they may not have developed coping skills to deal with tragedy. By managing yours effectively and holding their hands through those times, you are sure to improve their physical and mental wellbeing through traumatic occurrences.