Help your children make sense of natural disasters – By Micahel Groseby Nicole Avery+ on February 13, 2009 in Child Development
I subscribe to an excellent parent newsletter called Happy Kids. It is written by Michael Grose. Grose is is a leading parent educator, parent coach, writer and speaker on parenting and family matters. I have written previously about Grose’s work, in particular his book Why First-Borns Rule The World And Last-Borns Want To Change It.
In an excellent newsletter that I received this week Michael Grose address the disaster that has hit my home state of Victoria – the bushfires. The devastation they have caused in terms of loss of life, property and environment is truly tragic. My heartfelt condolences go out to the thousands of people affected by this natural disaster.
In his newsletter, Grose wrtites:
I penned the following article to assist parents, teachers and other professionals to help kids deal with the disasters that will dominate all forms of news media in the coming days.
Please read it below. Feel free to pass this article on as you see fit. Schools and other organizations can send this home to their parent communities.
Help your children make sense of natural disasters
By Michael Grose
The Queensland floods and the Victorian bushfires continue to wreak incredible havoc on so many people’s lives and will no doubt leave an indelible imprint on our collective psyches. These two natural disasters will be brought into our living rooms via the media over the coming days and weeks.
As adults we all want our children to live carefree lives and keep them from the pain and even horror of tragedies such as natural disasters. In reality we can’t do this.
So what is a parent, teacher, or other caring adult to do when the natural disasters fills the airwaves and the consciousness of society? Here are some ideas:
- Reassure children that they are safe. The consistency of the images can be frightening for young children who don’t understand the notion of distance and have difficulty distinguishing between reality and fiction. Let them know that while this event is indeed happening it will not affect them directly.
- Be available and ‘askable’. Let kids know that it is okay to talk about the unpleasant events. Listen to what they think and feel. By listening, you can find out if they have misunderstandings, and you can learn more about the support that they need. You do not need to explain more than they are ready to hear, but be willing to answer their questions.
- Help children process what they see and hear, particularly through television. Children are good observers but can be poor interpreters of events that are out of their level of understanding. Sit with them. Ask them questions to ascertain their understanding.
- Support children’s concerns for others. They may have genuine concerns for the suffering that will occur and they may need an outlet for those concerns. It is heart-warming to see this empathy in children for the concerns of others.
- Let them explore feelings beyond fear. Many children may feel sad or even angry with these events so let them express the full range of emotions. They may feel sadder for the loss of wildlife, than for loss of human life, which is impersonal for them.
- Help children and young people find a legitimate course of action if they wish. Action is a great antidote to stress and anxiety so finding simple ways to help, including donating some pocket money can assist kids to cope and teaches them to contribute.
- Avoid keeping the television on all the time. The visual nature of the media means that images are repeated over and over, which can be both distressing to some and desensitizing to others.
- Be aware of your own actions. Children will take their cues from you and if they see you focusing on it in an unhealthy way then they will focus on it too. Let them know that it is happening but it should not dominate their lives.
- Take action yourself. Children who know their parents, teachers, or other significant caregivers are working to make a difference feel hope. They feel safer and more positive about the future. So do something. It will make you feel more hopeful, too. And hope is one of the most valuable gifts we can give children and ourselves.
Children’s worlds can be affected in ways that we can’t even conceive of so adults need to be both sensitive to children’s needs and mindful of what they say and how they act in front of children.
In difficult times, it is worth remembering what adults and children need most are each other.