Weatherford Democrat

May 26, 2013

EXTENSION NEWS: Helping children cope


Weatherford Democrat

— By KATHY SMITH

Adults worry about their children when disasters occur. They may feel that they don’t want to discuss the events such as tornadoes or explosions that have occurred.

However, parents shouldn’t worry that talking about disasters will make children afraid. More often, children are more frightened when information is whispered or not discussed. It is important to allow children to talk about the disaster and especially the questions that puzzle them such as, “What will happen if there is a flood and I am in school?” or “What will happen to my dog?” Try to answer questions and address the concerns with solid and easy to understand information.

Often children can have a difficult time coping with the trauma of a disaster. They may be sad or afraid and re-enact the disaster over and over to make sense of it. Sometimes their behavior may regress; they may have trouble eating, stomach aches and nightmares.

To help young children under 5 you can do the following:

• Reassure them and give them physical comfort.

• Return to a normal routine as soon as possible including bed time.

• Encourage them to talk about their losses, such as the death of pets or loss of toys.

• Monitor their exposure to news media reports about the disaster.

To help older children:

• Give them extra attention and consideration. Temporarily relax your expectations of their performance at home and school.

• Set gentle but firm rules for acting-out behavior.

• Give them structured, but undemanding home chores and other activities.

• Encourage children to express their thoughts and feeling and be willing to listen.

Some children may suffer long-term affects such as depression, prolonged grief and stress. This may include persistent sadness, irritability, loss of interest in activities they once enough, sleeping problems. If a child is having a difficult time, for a period of time, it is best to seek help from a qualified health professional.

Parents can help children be prepared for a disaster such as a fire, tornado or flood. Practice with them before a disaster and how to respond. Explain that when a disaster occurs there may be people hurt, no electricity, water, or telephones.

Teach children how and when to call for help and how to call 911.

Be prepared to answer questions about things that happen and is seen on the television. Give information that is helpful to them and discuss how they can be prepared.

Tell children when a disaster occurs, there are many people who can help them including the American Red Cross, a police officer or a neighbor.

If you are not with your child when a disaster occurs, teach children how to contact you and have someone they can call such as a neighbor, friend or relative, if they cannot call you.  Help your children to memorize the important phone numbers and quiz them every couple of months to help them remember.

Source: American Red Cross and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Disaster Recovery.

Kathy Smith is a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for Parker County. Contact her at (817) 598-6168 or kl-smith@tamu.edu.