Monday, January 10, 2011

Helping children affected by Natural Disasters

As I sit watching the devastation unfold before my eyes from the floods here in Queensland, I'm thinking about the enormity of what lies ahead for the people, not only physically, but also emotionally. Adults will find it difficult to recover from this experience, but for many children it will be extremely traumatic.

Children surviving natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis have several challenges to cope with. They suffer trauma from loosing friends, family members, homes and possessions and witnessing devastation in their communities. These children along with their families and communities also face the further threat of disease and illness due to shortages of food, clean water, shelter and poor hygiene conditions.

Adults are traumatized by the loss and uncertainty that disasters cause their families, communities and themselves. As a result, their sadness and stress may cause them to forget about children’s need for love, affection and security. In crisis situations, parents, family members, community leaders, health workers, and teachers are important sources of support for children.

What important information should adults know to help children cope with natural disasters?

  • All children react differently to crisis situations. Some may withdraw and become very quiet. Others may appear to be coping well but inside may be feeling hurt, sad and scared. The stress of crisis situations may also cause some children to become more aggressive.

  • In crisis and emergency situations children need constant love, affection, security and hope that the situation will improve. Try to avoid punishing or scolding children during this time as this may add to the suffering they are going through.

  • Play and sporting activities are one of the best ways for children to deal with stress.

  • Both boys and girls can promote good hygiene and safety practices, illness prevention, and provide emotional support to both children and adults.

  • Some children may question why disasters happen or feel guilty or responsible for the problem. Adults should spend time listening and talking to them about their feelings during and even months after the disaster.

What can adults do to help the children?

  • Try to give children regular routines again so that they feel secure and stable. Set times for going to school, eating, playing and sleeping.

  • Create a safe and clean area for children to play with one another.

  • For children who may not be able to attend school, spend a few minutes each day to tell or read them stories or play simple counting games.

  • Reassure children that their lives will be re-built and improved. Also discuss how the children themselves can help others so that they feel part of the solution and empowered to take action.

  • Make sure, however, that children are not burdened to take on responsibilities that adults should be doing or tasks that would put them in harm.

  • Talk to other adults in the family or community about ways to support children’s emotional health and well-being.

  • If adults need to leave the children to go somewhere, tell them where they are going, when they will be back, and who will care for them so the children do not feel insecure or frightened.

  • Spend time with children comforting them, talking to them, singing to them or telling them stories regularly.

  • If children react severely to stress for a long time, seek help from a counselor or someone who knows how to help children.

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