Children may require special attention after experiencing a disaster. Four common fears children have are death, darkness, animals and abandonment. In a disaster children may experience any or all of these. You should encourage children to talk about what they are feeling and to express this through play, drawing or painting.
A child's reaction to a disaster may vary depending on age, maturity and previous experience. In all cases it is important to acknowledge what happened and take time to talk with children about their fears.
Some behaviors you may find children exhibiting after a disaster include:
- Being upset at the loss of a favorite toy, blanket, teddy bear, etc.
- Hitting, throwing or kicking to show their anger and frustration.
- Fear of the disaster coming again.
- Fear of being left alone or sleeping alone. They may want to sleep with another person.
- Behaving as they did when they were younger, including wetting the bed, sucking their thumb, wanting to be held, etc.
- Exhibiting symptoms of illness such as nausea, fever, headaches, not wanting to eat, etc.
- Becoming quiet and withdrawn.
- Becoming easily upset.
- Feeling that they caused the disaster in some way.
- Feeling neglected by parents who are busy cleaning up or rebuilding.
- Refusing to go to school or to be out of the parent's sight.
Parents and other adults can help children come to terms with their feelings in several ways.
- Let children know you love them and they can count on you.
- Reassure them that they are not responsible for what occurred.
- Talk with your children about your own feelings.
- Give simple, accurate answers to children's questions.
- Hold them. Close contact assures children you are there for them and will not abandon them.
- Let children grieve for a lost toy or blanket that was special to them. It will help them cope with their feelings.
- Provide play experiences to relieve stress.
- Repeat assurances and information as often as you need to; do not stop responding.
- Spend extra time putting children to bed at night.
- Listen to what children say. Repeat their words to clarify what they are feeling.
If additional help is needed for adults or children, contact a community resource such as a counseling center, minister or mental health agency.