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Parent Tips for Helping School-Age Children after Disasters

Reactions: Confusion about what happened

Responses

  • Give clear explanations of what happened whenever your child asks. Avoid details that would scare your child. Correct any misinformation that your child has about whether there is a present danger.
  • Remind children that there are people working to keep families safe and that your family can get more help if needed.
  • Let your children know what they can expect to happen next.

Examples of things to do and say

  • “I know other kids said that something terrible will happen again, but we are now in a safe place.”
  • Continue to answer questions your children have (without getting irritable) and to reassure them the family is safe.
  • Tell them what’s happening next.

Reactions: Feelings of being responsible

School-age children may have concerns that they were somehow at fault, or should have been able to change what happened. They may hesitate to voice their concerns in front of others.

Responses

  • Provide opportunities for children to voice their concerns to you.
  • Offer reassurance and tell them why it was not their fault.

Examples of things to do and say

  • Take your child aside. Explain that, “After a disaster like this, lots of kids — and parents too — keep thinking, 'What could I have done differently?' or 'I should have been able to do something.' That doesn’t mean they were at fault.”
  • "Nobody could help grandpa. It wasn’t your fault.“

Reactions: Fears of recurrence of the event and reactions to reminders

Responses

  • Help identify different reminders (people, places, sounds, smells, feelings, time of day) and clarify the difference between the event and the reminders that occur after it.
  • Reassure them, as often as they need, that they are safe.
  • Protect children from seeing media coverage of the event, as it can trigger fears of the disaster happening again.

Examples of things to do and say

  • When they recognize that they are being reminded, say, “Try to think to yourself, I am upset because I am being reminded of our house that has been destroyed when I read something about the disaster, but the house we live in now cannot be destroyed. I am in another country and I am safe.”
  • “I think we need to take a break from the Internet right now.”
  • Try to sit with your child while watching the news. Ask your child to describe what they saw on the news. Clarify any misunderstandings.

Reactions: Retelling the event or playing out the event over and over

Responses

  • Permit the child to talk and act out these reactions. Let him know that this is normal.
  • Encourage positive problem-solving in play or drawing.

Examples of things to do and say

  • “You’re drawing a lot of pictures of what happened. Did you know that many children do that?”
  • “It might help to draw about how people make peace with each other.”

Reactions: Fear of being overwhelmed by their feelings

Responses

  • Provide a safe place for her to express her fears, anger, sadness, etc. Allow children to cry or be sad; don’t expect them to be brave or tough.

Examples of things to do and say

  • “When scary things happen, people have strong feelings, like being mad at everyone or being very sad. Would you like to sit here with a blanket until you’re feeling better?”

Reactions: Sleep problems

Bad dreams, fear of sleeping alone, demanding to sleep with parents

Responses

  • Let your child tell you about the bad dream. Explain that bad dreams are normal and they will go away. Do not ask the child to go into too many details of the bad dream.
  • Temporary sleeping arrangements are okay; make a plan with your child to return to normal sleeping habits.

Examples of things to do and say

  • “That was a scary dream. Let’s think about some good things you can dream about and I’ll rub your back until you fall asleep.”
  • “You can stay in our bedroom for the next couple of nights. After that we will spend more time with you in your bed before you go to sleep. If you get scared again, we can talk about it.”

Reactions: Concerns about the safety of themselves and others

Responses

  • Help them to share their worries and give them realistic information.

Examples of things to do and say

  • Create a “worry box” where children can write out their worries and place them in the box. Set a time to look these over, problem-solve, and come up with answers to the worries.

Reactions: Altered behavior

Unusually aggressive or restless behavior

Responses

  • Encourage the child to engage in recreational activities and exercise as an outlet for feelings and frustration.

Examples of things to do and say

  • “I know you didn’t mean to slam that door. It must be hard to feel so angry.”
  • “How about if we take a walk? Sometimes getting our bodies moving helps with strong feelings.”

Reactions: Somatic complaints

Headaches, stomachaches, muscle aches for which there seem to be no reason

Responses

  • Find out if there is a medical reason. If not, provide comfort and assurance that this is normal.
  • Be matter-of-fact with your child; giving these non-medical complaints too much attention may increase them.

Examples of things to do and say

  • Make sure the child gets enough sleep, eats well, drinks plenty of water, and gets enough exercise.
  • “How about sitting over there? When you feel better, let me know and we can play cards.”

Reactions: Closely watching a parent’s responses and recovery

Not wanting to disturb the parents with their own worries

Responses

  • Give children opportunities to talk about their feelings, as well as your own.
  • Remain as calm as you can, so as not to increase your child’s worries.

Examples of things to do and say

  • “Yes, my ankle is broken, but it feels better since the paramedics wrapped it. I bet it was scary seeing me hurt, wasn’t it?”

Contact

You are welcome to send us a message using the following contact:

Bundespsychotherapeutenkammer (BPtK)

Klosterstraße 64, 10179 Berlin

E-Mail: info@bptk.de

Tel.: 030 278785-0

Fax: 030 278785-44