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Last time, we started talking about helping children deal with a disaster or a crisis (whether they were directly involved or just saw it happening, even on TV).The article was dedicated to understanding the way a child perceives such an event, according to his or her age.
Today, we’ll talk about how you can identify post-traumatic stress disorder in your kids and what you can do to help them overcome this difficult time.
First, let’s see the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the FEMA website:
- Refusal to return to school and“clinging” behavior, including shadowing the mother or father around the house
- Persistent fears related to the catastrophe (such as fears about being permanently separated from parents)
- Sleep disturbances such as nightmares, screaming during sleep and bedwetting, persisting more than several days after the event
- Loss of concentration and irritability
- Jumpiness or being startled easily
- Behavior problems, for example, misbehaving in school or at home in ways that are not typical for the child
- Physical complaints(stomachaches, headaches, dizziness) for which a physical cause cannot be found
- Withdrawal from family and friends, sadness, listlessness, decreased activity, and preoccupation with the events of the disaster
Keep a close eye on your kids and notice any strange behaviour, even when they’re alone, playing. If they present any of the symptoms above, give them all your support and love, talk to them about their feelings and even look for specialised help. This kind of experiences might traumatize kids for life, if the problems stay unsolved.
But even if your children seem fine, you should still take the following measures during and after a disaster or crisis:
According to Divine Caroline (a blog I discovered while looking for some info onthe Haitian earthquake), here’s what you need to do:
“Focus On The Positive”
This doesn’t mean you should paint this rosy-pink picture about disasters. But when a child is face to face with let’s say an earthquake that shattered an entire city and killed millions, their whole world goes upside-down. And they will most likely suffer a great shock.
And a good way to keep the shock to a minimum is to focus on the positive: how lucky they are they’re alive and well, how great it is to be with your family and have your loved ones around.
If they just see the disaster on TV, talk about how organizations are raising money for the victims, how people help their neighbors or even drive from miles away to bring clothes, food and water and help them rebuild their homes.
This way, they’ll feel better knowing there’s always someone there to help them, even people they’ve never met. And it’s also a great way of teaching your child to help others in need, too. Which brings me to the next step:
“Get Them Involved In The Relief Efforts”
You don’t have to pay hundreds to charity organizations to help families in need. If you can and you want to do so, then let your kids participate. Let them send the money or at least watch you sending it. Tell them how the money will help people in need.
If you can’t afford to donate money, you can send clothes you don’t need, blankets and even canned food. Tell your kids to choose a few of their things they’d like to donate to children in need: clothes, toys, shoes, whatever they don’t wear anymore or they’re willing to give away. Explain them what happened to those children and how donations will make them feel better.
“Encourage Them To Ask Questions”
Let your children ask as many questions they want. This way, they’ll express their fears and doubts and you’ll find out what’s going on in those little heads of theirs. When answering their questions, make sure you:
- Use words and concepts your child can understand. Make your explanation appropriate to your child’s age and level of understanding. Don’t overload a child with too much information.
- Give children honest answers and information. Children will usually know if you’re not being honest.
- Be prepared to repeat explanations or have several conversations. Some information may be hard to accept or understand. Asking the same question over and over may be your child’s way of asking for reassurance.
- Acknowledge and support your child’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Let your child know that you think their questions and concerns are important.
- Be consistent and reassuring, but don’t make unrealistic promises.
- Avoid stereotyping groups of people by race, nationality, or religion. Use the opportunity to teach tolerance and explain prejudice.
- Remember that children learn from watching their parents and teachers. They are very interested in how you respond to events. They learn from listening to your conversations with other adults.
- Let children know how you are feeling. It’s OK for them to know if you are anxious or worried about events. However, don’t burden them with your concerns.
- Don’t confront your child’s way of handling events. If a child feels reassured by saying that things are happening very far away, it’s usually best not to disagree. The child may need to think about events this way to feel safe. (aacap.org)
Now here are a couple more techniques you can use to comfort your kids. I got these from elev8.com, I find them very useful:
“Try to keep your emotions stable as you talk with your child”
Don’t let your kids see how upset, afraid or disoriented you are. Tell them how you feel, but don’t break down and cry for hours, because that will make your kids break down as well. Especially when they don’t understand why you’re having these feelings. So no matter how strong your feelings are, be patient enough to answer your children’s questions and ask them how they feel. Always be connected with their minds.
Also, if it helps calm you down, say a prayer together with your kids. Sometimes, it all it takes.
“Take them out of the house and enjoy being out”
This is ok only if the area you live in is safe. Getting out of the house helps you disconnect from the negative feelings and reconnect with your family. Don’t feel guilty for having fun. Life has to go on and you need to keep your family happy.
“Turn off the television”
From time to time, turn off the TV. Even if you don’t go out, just play with your kids, cook something yummy or just talk to your loved ones about anything else but the disaster. Relax and try to have a good time.
These moments are crucial, because they keep you away from depression and they reassure your kids that life will be good again.
You can find more practical information on how to overcome any crisis or disaster on www.myfamilysurvivalplan.com.
By Anne Sunday
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