AUBURN, Ala.—Following a disaster, children may be angry, afraid of the disaster recurring and afraid to be alone or sleep alone. Children may start behaving like they did when they were younger. They might start sucking their thumbs, wet the bed or want to be held. Children could also experience symptoms of illness such as nausea, vomiting, headaches, fever or loss of appetite. Here are a few things parents can do to help children cope during severe weather or disasters:
Talk and Listen to Your Child
Provide simple, accurate information to questions. Talk with your child about your own feelings and fears. Listen to your child for signs of fear, anxiety or insecurity. Repeating the child’s words may be helpful to you and the child to clarify feelings.
Repeat Information and Reassurance Many Times
Reassure your child that you are all together and that you will take care of them. Do not stop responding just because you told the child once or even ten times.
Hold Your Child
Provide comfort. Touching is important for your child during this period. Close contact helps assure a child that you are there and will not abandon him or her.
Watch Your Child at Play
Listen to what is said and how the child plays. Frequently a child will express feelings of fear or anger while playing with dolls, trucks or friends after a major disaster.
Provide Play Experiences to Relieve Tension
Work with play dough, paint or other activities. If a child shows a need to hit or kick, give him or her something safe such as a pillow, ball or balloon. Allow a safe, open space for them to play is possible.
Allow Your Child to Mourn/Grieve Lost Meaningful Items
A child might have lost a toy or blanket during a time of severe weather. Mourning this item will help the child cope with feelings about the disaster. In time, it may be helpful to replace the lost object.
For more information, view the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Emergency Handbook iBook that is free to download from iTunes or find it online at http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ACES-2168/index.php.
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