Children sense the anxiety and tension in adults around them. And, like adults, children experience the same feelings of helplessness and lack of control that tragedy-related stress can bring about. Unlike adults, however, children have little experience to help them place their current situation into perspective.
Each child responds differently to tragedy, depending on his or her understanding and maturity, but it’s easy to see how an event like this can create a great deal of anxiety in children of all ages because they will interpret the tragedy as a personal danger to themselves and those they care about.
Whatever the child’s age or relationship to the damage caused by tragedy, it’s important that you be open about the consequences for your family, and that you encourage him or her to talk about it.
Quick Tips for Parents
- Children need comforting and frequent reassurance that they’re safe make sure they get it.
- Be honest and open about the tragedy or disaster.
- Encourage children to express their feelings through talking, drawing or playing.
- Try to maintain your daily routines as much as possible.
Pre-school Age Children
Behavior such as bed-wetting, thumb sucking, baby talk, or a fear of sleeping alone may intensify in some younger children, or reappear in children who had previously outgrown them. They may complain of very real stomach cramps or headaches, and be reluctant to go to school. It’s important to remember that these children are not “being bad” –they’re afraid. Here are some suggestions to help them cope with their fears:
- Reassure young children that they’re safe. Provide extra comfort and contact by discussing the child’s fears at night, by telephoning during the day and with extra physical comforting.
- Get a better understanding of a child’s feelings about the tragedy. Discuss the tragedy with them and find out each child’s particular fears and concerns. Answer all questions they may ask and provide them loving comfort and care. You can work to structure children’s play so that it remains constructive, serving as an outlet for them to express fear or anger.
Grade-school Age Children