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Helping Children Cope with Katrina
September 6, 2005
Asking for help does not mean we are weak or incompetent. It usually indicates an advanced level of honesty and intelligence.
-Anne Wilson Schaef

In her Parenting Exchange article, “Helping Children Cope in the Wake of Tragedy or Disaster,” Karen Stephens offers practical tips for parents and caregivers. Here are some that apply in our current situation...

* Limit children’s exposure to graphic details of crisis. Children often personalize information. They believe a crisis will affect their immediate family, even if its actually happening miles away. Whenever possible, reassure children that they are safe…

* Explain disaster-related terms children hear. Describe what is happening in language children can understand….

* Spend time together so questions can be asked. Children may understand some facts, but be confused by others. Listen carefully and clear up misconceptions to reduce anxiety….

* Respond to children’s questions calmly in language geared to your child’s age and understanding. Giving too little information can confuse children. On the other hand, giving them to much information can overwhelm them.

* If children of any age are hesitant to ask questions, don’t assume they aren’t worried. From time to time, ask an open-ended question to encourage communication.

* Don’t belittle children for expressing fear; accept it as a rational reaction to something out of their control.

* In the wake of a tragedy, and during continued media coverage of it, maintain regular, predictable routines as much as possible. Nutrition, sleep, and play routines, along with old-fashioned TLC, like reading stories together on the couch, help children feel calm and safe.

* Provide ways for children to safely express their feelings through drawing or painting, poetry, essays, story or letter writing, puppetry, or dress up play.

* Children, preschool and older, benefit from concrete ways of helping victims. It builds compassion and gives children some sense of control. If appropriately involved in disaster or tragedy responses, children can discover what it means to be compassionate. Helping others, even in the smallest ways, builds children’s self-confidence. It’s an antidote to the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness all of us encounter during disaster.

* Don’t assume your efforts will only be needed for the short term. For years to come, kids will need your reassurance and guiding light. As children grow and mature, they’ll revisit and review mind-searing incidents from new perspectives. Advancing development brings new questions. When asked, your children need your time to listen. And, they need your honest, heartfelt responses.

* Separate your feelings from your child’s. If you become overwhelmed by crisis, find others to whom you can safely express anxiety… By getting help for yourself, you’ll be better able to support your children.


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Karen Stephens has over 150 Parenting Exchange articles addressing a wide range of parenting issues that can be purchased either as individual articles or as collections organized by topic areas. Check this here.

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