Help Children Deal When Worldwide Tragedy Hits

By: Dr Robyn Silverman

Worldwide tragedy, such as earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and typhoons can create fear, distrust, and confusion among children as well as adults. Questions may ensue such as "will this happen to me?" and "are we safe?"

It's normal for children, just like parents and educators, to feel confused and scared. As a Child Development Expert, adults come to me to find out what they can do and if they're doing enough to help young people during this trying time. While many parents may shield their children from the news, information can easily seep out through friends and the media. It's important for parents and educators to be available and ready.

Here are some things to remember:

(1) Stay calm: Children are looking to you to see how to react. By staying calm and in control, children will feel more safe and secure.

(2) Be available: Your children may need you to simply "be there" to listen or sit with them. Sometimes the most powerful parenting takes place when we say nothing at all.

(3) Reassure them: Make sure that the children know that the adults are taking care of the problem and working hard to take care of the people who are hurt or lost.

(4) Let them know that they're safe: If you know that your children and your family members are indeed safe, be sure to let your children know. If this is not accurate information and safety is still in question, don't lie. Reassure your children that the adults in charge are doing everything they can do to keep everyone as safe as possible.

(5) Comfort them: Allow them to cry, question, and show concern. Don't shrug them off and tell them to "stop worrying." This does not help. Tell them it's OK to be scared or sad and that you're available to them if they want to talk or just be together.

(6) Be observant: All children won't express their concern, grief, or fear outwardly. You know your child. Sometimes your child will become very quiet or lose their appetite when something tragic happens. Some children will be more likely to have a reactionperhaps due to special needs, emotional sensitivity, or past trauma. Be there for your child and know that even if your child is not showing outward signs of grief, s/he may still need your help.

(7) Keep your normal routine: If possible, try to keep your children's schedule consistant." Children are comforted by predictability. However, if your child needs some time with you or isn't sleeping, be flexible.

(8) Be honest: Be truthful about the facts of the event, of course, only as is appropriate for their developmental level. Children don't need to know all the gory detailsthis will only serve to make them more scared and confused. However, don't pretend or lie. Stick to the facts and don't exaggerate or speculate. Children are very perceptive and need to know that they can trust you to tell them the truth.

(9) Partner with your children's school: Find out what resources are available to the children during the school day if they're feeling scared or unsure. If a personal tragedy happened, make sure the guidance counselor and your child's teacher knows about it. Spending time in school can be a comfort for your children as they can spend time with friends and teachers as well as with professional counselors, if needed.

(10) Limit the media onslaught: The best people to talk to your children about these tragic events are trusted family and educators. Don't make the media your child's teacher when it comes to learning about these disasters. The media often talks about high death tolls and shows gruesome pictures that are not developmentally appropriate for children to see. If you want your children to know the facts, as appropriate, talk to them yourself.

Lastly, your children (and you) may feel better by taking action. Children want to show their compassion and charity. In times of tragedy, they may not be able to help directly but they can send letters, draw pictures, write poems, send food or supplies or donate some of their allowance to help relief efforts. This kind of action can be incredibly helpful to children as well as those who are in need.

Kids and Teens
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