(Courtesy of Tenafly Pediatrics) Hardly a day passes that we don’t hear about a disaster in the news or learn of a terrorist threat. Although most adults are emotionally prepared to deal with such terrible events, most children are not. Even though they don’t usually say anything, children can be profoundly affected by news of a disaster, man-made or natural.
Unable to cope with such a traumatic event, children can become excessively anxious, angry or sad. Experiencing such a disaster up front can be even more debilitating. Children can experience post-traumatic stress disorder, just like adults.
Watch for Signs
There are signs of unusual behavior that may suggest that your child may be having trouble dealing with a traumatic event. They may have disturbances with their sleep (i.e., sleeping too much, trouble falling asleep, nightmares, waking up at night), changes in appetite, hyperactivity, irritable moods, withdrawing socially and repetitively acting out the traumatic event.
If you see these behaviors, it is important to speak to your child about the event. If you don’t, it will only convince your child that what happened was too horrible to even speak of and increase his/her anxiety.
If they are old enough to tell you, you can start by asking your child what they have heard about the event. This can help to identify any misconceptions or misinformation your child may have. Explain what happened as simply and directly as possible. Older children usually want more detailed information compared to younger children. You should take cues from your child regarding how much information to provide.
Sometimes, children do not want to discuss certain traumatic events. You shouldn’t force the issue, but rather, leave an open invitation for discussion when your child feels ready.
Terrorist Events or Disasters
Younger children should not be exposed to news regarding terrorist events or disasters. Older children should watch television with their parents, so that they can discuss what is being watched and how it makes them feel. Children should be encouraged to ask questions, and their parents should answers those questions directly. If children feel that they understand a crisis, they can better cope with it.
Reassure your child that measure are being taken to keep them safe. It is important to make children feel that they are safe in their homes, schools and communities.
Help your child to identify actions he/she can do to help those affected by recent events, rather than focus on what could have been done to prevent the disaster.
Professional Help From Experts
Sometimes, children need more than a frank conversation with their parents to help them get through their problems with coping. That is when your child’s pediatrician or other primary care provider can help. They may be able to help your child identify his/her problem or refer him/her to a qualified mental health specialist who can help.
It is important that children grow up in an atmosphere of safety and security, not only physically but also mentally and spiritually. We can’t prevent disaster, but we can help them cope with a disaster when it happens. A child’s parents are the first line of defense against such emotional turmoil. However, when the entire family feels overwhelmed by anxiety, anger or sadness, they should consult a trained specialist who can help them through their ordeal.