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Helping Your Children Deal With Disaster

Rockville Centre Pediatrics, LLP



When disaster strikes, it can have a tremendous emotional effect on all of us. It is difficult for all of us to make sense of such a sudden, shocking, unexpected and devastating event. As parents we have the difficult job of explaining it to our children.


It is important however, that you do talk about this with your children.?It is something that will be discussed now and for several months by their peers, the media and by other adults.?Parents have a responsibility to filter the information their children are exposed to and somehow make it understandable. Adults perceive events differently than children do.?Avoid transferring adult concerns to children. Responses should be developmentally appropriate.?For young children, it is best to limit media exposure. Visual images can be quite graphic and disturbing.?


It is difficult to deal with such a loss of stability and security.?Disasters interrupt the natural order of things. They can destroy trust and upset equilibrium for extended periods of time.?Children may become intensely worried about what will happen to them.? They need repeated reassurance regarding their own safety and the outcome of the disaster as it relates to them.? If possible, their �normal?daily routines such as meals and bedtime remain uninterrupted.


Reactions of children (and adults) can vary widely depending on such variables as age or developmental level, previous experiences, temperament and personality, and the immediacy of the disaster to their own lives.


Some children will show physical signs of their anxiety.?Sleep disturbances or eating difficulties may occur.?They might become clingy, unhappy, and need more parental attention and comfort.?Feelings of irritability, anger and sadness can occur.?Some children might experience headaches, stomachaches or other somatic complaints.?Elementary school aged children may regress, or act younger then their chronologic age.


Children need the opportunity to discuss their thoughts and feelings.?Provide your child with a forum to ask all the questions he or she may have. Answer honestly and on a level that they can understand.?You may find that you are answering the same questions repeatedly.? Take all of your child�s questions seriously, even if they seem ridiculous to you.?If your child asks you a question that you don�t know the answer to or you are not sure that your child can understand or accept the answer, it is acceptable to tell the child that you don�t know or that you will either think about or find out the answer. If your child has difficulty speaking about it, you can encourage them to express their feelings in other ways, such as drawing pictures, role playing, etc.


Expect that resolving all of the feelings related to this disaster may take your child quite a while.?It is normal for a child to bring up the disaster long after it has happened or when you least expect it.?Make sure your child�s reaction is not more severe than that of his peers.? If you believe your child�s reaction is severe, you can contact the office, seek professional assistance from your school psychologist, or other mental health professional. Signs of reactions that need professional attention include:


?/span>Please feel free to contact us at the office if you have a question or concern.?If there is any way we can be of assistance to you at this disturbing time please let us know.


For more information

?span style='font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"'>       National Association of School Psychologists

?span style='font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"'>       New York State Office of Mental Health

?span style='font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"'>       American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

?span style='font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"'>       American Psychiatric Association

?span style='font:7.0pt "Times New Roman"'>       Dr. Koop�s website




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