Fact Sheets : Disasters-Helping Children Cope

As compared to earlier times, violent disasters of catastrophic proportions such as the September 11, 2001 horrific terrorist attacks in the USA are shown live on TV and replayed constantly. It is difficult to imagine that children have not seen shocking or violent footage or at least have not heard about the terrifying events from others. The closer to the disaster a child is, the more he or she will be affected. Of course children in, close to the disaster area or who have suffered personal injury or a loss of a parent or sibling need special attention and support from a psychologist and other specialists. The way children and adolescents react to disasters depends on individual circumstances such as the "pre-disaster" life situation at home, age and gender. Here are some suggestions for parents, teachers and caregivers to be able to help children cope with disasters:

  • The key issue is communication. The more you discuss the events with the child the better.
     
  • Adults should acknowledge and not deny that an event took place.
     
  • Keep in mind that children react(mimic)like their parents: calm parents = calm kids.
     
  • Children need to be told that they are safe and that what they have seen on TV occurred in another area or location.
     
  • Children should be assured that their parents and the local authorities have done everything to keep them safe.
     
  • Watch out for worrisome signs suggestive of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
     
  • Do not let your children watch too much TV, as over-exposure to the same images will be very traumatic.
     
  • Do not let your children watch these events alone. And when watching a tragic event or disaster on TV with them, answer their questions as confidently as possible. Remember that the key here is to be reassuring, comforting and supportive.
     
  • Discourage the "revenge" sentiment, by explaining to them that this will not achieve anything but rather do more harm.
     
  • It is important to return to your usual family and other activities and routines as soon as possible.
     
  • The above suggestions apply to teachers and other caregivers as well. Parents should discuss any related concerns and work with other school or day care staff when dealing with their children who have witnessed or experienced a disaster. If you are concerned, get help for your child or family. With the proper support and treatment from a doctor, psychiatrist, or other qualified mental/social health professionals, the situation can improve.