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For Parents: Helping children in a crisis

A man and a woman look at the aftermath of a fire.

Helping children through a crisis is a challenge for the whole family. We have put together some tips for helping your children through a crisis.

1. Children need to be able to talk and ask questions about what happened

If children have a question and do not feel they can talk about it with their parents or teachers, any anxiety they have will become worse. Children need to be able to ask questions and talk about what worries them even if there are no real solutions to the problem. Even if you say to your child, “I don’t know” that is 100 times better than the child feeling they cannot talk about it or ask the question.

2. Reassure your children they are safe

Children need to be reassured that they (and you as their caregivers) are safe. You do this by taking time to talk about what happened and listening to their thoughts and feelings.

3. Listen to them carefully

More than anything, children need to know you are listening to them. Children have more insight than we sometimes realise. Questions and fears may arise several days, weeks or even months later, especially after watching news items on television. For example, in the recent floods, they may still be thinking about:

  • What happened to the people who were inside a building but could not get out?
  • The people they saw interviewed who lost their homes or loved ones, especially those who did not know if their loved ones were safe.
  • The issues of faith, God, and not knowing why this happened.
  • Will there be another flood or cyclone and where will it be?
  • The animals that died in the floods.

4. Keep doing regular things

Children find security in doing regular and planned events. To cancel an outing or to pull children out of school when a crisis like this occurs maybe helpful to parents but can hurt a child’s sense of security – especially for younger children. The exception of course is if the child is in danger.

5. Create some happy memories

This may seem strange but if you can do something fun with your child in the midst of the devastation, it can give them something good to think back on. For example, go to a movie, theme park, restaurant, etc.

6.Look for symptoms of anxiety

Often children appear to perform very well at the time of a crisis, but can in due course experience some symptoms. These include:

  • anxiety;
  • fear;
  • panic;
  • anger;
  • difficulty sleeping;
  • waking throughout the night;
  • nightmares or daydreaming.

You can see these symptoms by:

  • change in appetite;
  • reliving images of traumatic events or dwelling on the event;
  • a child may become easily angered or upset or may withdraw or become reluctant to be open or talk;
  • headaches, stomachaches, nightmares, indigestion are common by-products of this type of stress.

Any of these symptoms may indicate emotional stress and if they continue, seek professional help.

7. Control the television

Tune in for updates and stay informed, but do not let the television reports of the tragedy dominate the atmosphere of your home. Instead, allow your children to watch their favourite programs or movies.

8. Pray with your children

Praying will provide an answer both for the victims and for your children. Children will feel empowered when they know they can pray.

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