Helping Children Cope With Disaster and Trauma
- Interpret and Protect
- Monitor Behavior
One job of people with an emergency management degree might be helping children cope with disasters. They may work directly with children themselves, or they may work with other emergency workers and parents training them on how to help children who are traumatized after a disaster. Below are five tips for doing this.
Communicating with children is one of the most important elements of helping them deal with the trauma of a disaster. Parents or professionals should talk to children and allow them to ask questions. Information about the disaster can be shared in an age-appropriate way, but adults should do their best to be reassuring. It is important to keep in mind that young children in particular may reach false conclusions that they do not share with their parents or other adults, so it is important to keep prompting conversation. However, parents and professionals should also be sensitive to the different ways in which children might process the experience, and some might naturally be less communicative than others.
2. Interpret and Protect
Turning off the TV and making an effort to shield children from news sources is also important. However, it is generally not foolproof. Children may hear inaccurate information from their peers and encounter TV or other media reports elsewhere even if parents try to keep them away from it. When parents cannot protect them from information, they may need to correct errors in things they have heard.
A person with an emergency management degree who is helping children cope with disasters or a child’s parent may also model how to deal with stress. This can include eating healthily, exercising and talking about feelings and concerns. If the disaster does not impact the child directly but impacts others in the community, the parent can also model empathy and compassion toward those who are harmed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes a number of good tips for working with children after a disaster. One of those is to give the child the opportunity to volunteer in some way to help others who are affected. This should be in a safe environment, not as part of cleanup or rescue, and should be age-appropriate. The right activity can help children get a sense of control over the situation and make them feel more positive in general.
5. Monitor Behavior
Children may act out instead of talking about their feelings, and parents and professionals should be prepared to observe their behavior and note whether they are having problems. Some warning sides could be sleep problems, clinginess toward parents and argumentative behavior. The CDC says kindergarten-aged children might revert back to younger behaviors such as bedwetting while older children could abuse drugs or alcohol.
The effects of a disaster do not go away when the incident itself is over, and it can be particularly important to guide children through the trauma and help restore a sense of security. Teachers, family members, and professionals with an emergency management degree are all important in helping children cope with disasters.