children to be afraid, especially after a natural disaster. The fear may last
for an extended period of time and is best handled with kindness and understanding
on the part of the parents. Children should be encouraged to talk about their
feelings and express their fears through play, drawing, painting, or clay/playdough.
indicates that children's fears vary according to age, maturation, and previous
learning experiences. Four major fears common in children are: death, darkness,
animals, and abandonment.
important aspect of children's fears is that they may be intensified when adults
refuse or are reluctant to discuss them with children. Many families ban all
painful topics from family conversation. Such strategies inflict high costs
in terms of intensified despair and negativity among children. To help children
cope with fears, one of the most important steps adults can take is to take
the time to talk with children.
a Disaster Some Children May:
upset at the loss of a favorite toy, blanket, teddy bear, etc.
angry. They may hit, throw, kick to show their anger.
more active and restless.
afraid of the disaster recurring. They may ask many times, "Will it come again?"
afraid to be left alone or afraid to sleep alone. Children may want to sleep
with a parent or another person. They may have nightmares.
as they did when younger. They may start sucking their thumb, wetting the bed,
asking for a bottle, wanting to be held.
symptoms of illness such as nausea, vomiting, headaches, not wanting to eat,
running a fever.
quiet and withdrawn, not wanting to talk about the experience. become upset
easily -crying and whining frequently.
guilty that they caused the disaster because of some previous behavior.
neglected by parents who are busy trying to clean up and rebuild their lives
to go to school or to child care arrangements. The child may not want to be
out of the parent's sight.
afraid of loud noises, rain, storms.
show any outward sign of being upset. Some children may never show distress
because they do not feel upset. Other children may not give evidence of being
upset until several weeks or months later.
Parents Can Do To Help Children Cope with Feelings
with your child, providing simple, accurate information to questions.
with your child about your own feelings.
to what your child says and how your child says it. Is there fear, anxiety,
insecurity? Repeating the child's words may be very helpful, such as "You are
afraid that...", or "You wonder if the storm will come again tonight." This
helps both you and the child clarify feelings.
your child, "We are together. We care about you. We will take care of you."
may need to repeat information and reassurances many times. Do not stop responding
just because you told the child once or even 10 times.
your child. Provide comfort. Touching is important for children during this
period. Close contact helps assure children that you are there and will not
extra time putting your child to bed. Talk and offer assurance. Leave a night
light on if that makes the child feel more secure.
your child at play. Listen to what is said and how the child plays. Frequently
children express feelings of fear or anger while playing with dolls, trucks,
or friends after a major disaster.
play experiences to relieve tension. Work with playdough, paint, play in water,
etc. If children show a need to hit or kick, give them something safe like
a pillow, ball, or balloon. Allow a safe, open space for them to play if possible.
your child lost a meaningful toy or blanket, allow the child to mourn and grieve
(by crying, perhaps). It is all part of helping the young child cope with feelings
about the disaster. In time, it may be helpful to replace the lost object.
you need help for your child, contact family members, such as grandparents
or a clergy member.