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Get Through Any Disaster – What You Need To Know: Helping Kids Cope With Fear

Updated on February 26, 2009

Children most definitely will require extraordinary particular attention to their emotional needs while experiencing a disaster. The most common fears that kids have are darkness, wild animals, abandonment, pain, and of course, death. It is important to encourage kids to discuss their feelings and to try to express them in some way, whether it be through painting or drawing or a form of play. Depending on the age and maturity level of the child, their reactions will vary widely. No matter what the level of their visible reaction, it is imperative to understand that the disaster is an extremely traumatic situation for any child to confront, and that it will take a considerable amount of time to acknowledge the reality of the situation and to realize and manifest the effect of the fears and anxieties.

Some of the behaviors that children may manifest during and for an indeterminate time after a disaster include:

  • Behavior that is suitable to younger ages, such as thumb sucking, bed wetting, desire to be cuddled, and more.
  • Being quick to upset, tears and anger.
  • Being upset at the loss of a personal teddy bear, toy, or blanket.
  • Believing that it was an action that they committed which caused the disaster.
  • Fear of a repeat occurrence of the disaster.
  • Fear of being abandoned, being left alone, or even just sleeping alone. In these cases it is considered beneficial to let the children sleep with the adults.
  • Fearing being away from their parents for even a moment.
  • Feeling that their parents are neglecting them as they are busy coping with the strenuous requirements of survival.
  • Symptoms of malaise, such as fever, headaches, nausea, lack of appetite, etc.
  • Throwing things, hitting, biting, or kicking out of sheer fear, anxiety and frustration.
  • Withdrawing and becoming quiet and overly subdued.

The child's parents as well as other trusted adults can assist kids to come to terms with their emotions and deal with the inevitable traumatic effects of a disaster in the following ways:

  • Answer their questions in simple, but complete and accurate terms.
  • Continue to respond to their queries. You may have to repeat the same information and assurances over and over, but the repetition will be comforting.
  • Cuddle them. The closeness of human contact reassures them that you have no intention of abandoning them in the midst of all this chaos.
  • Don't discourage the child from grieving for a lost special blanket, toy, or doll, as it will assist them in coming to terms with their grief.
  • It may be difficult given the circumstances, but make sure that you create time and opportunity for play, even if it's just play-acting, or a few minutes of reassuring silliness.
  • Let the kids know that you love them and that they can depend on you to take care of all their needs.
  • Make sure that they fully understand that the onslaught of the disaster has absolutely nothing to do with them or anything that they did.
  • Pay close attention to what the child is saying. Repeat and mirror their words and actions so that they are assured that you fully understand.
  • When you are putting the kids to bed at night, spend extra time with them. Talk about the day's events in reassuring terms and display your confidence that everything will turn out alright and everyone will go on.

Continued In Get Through Any Disaster – What You Need To Know: Ensuring A Safe Food Supply

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