Many local families have been affected by the storms and flood damage over the past week. It may be difficult for some children to adjust to these incidents however there are some simple things you can do to help them cope.
Firstly, it’s important to remember that every child reacts differently to natural disasters. It can be normal for a child to experience some levels of anxiety and fear after traumatic events. Some children may have nightmares, sleep difficulties and may struggle to separate from their caregivers for a while after the event. This is expected and can be helped with some gentle reassurance and patience from adults. It may take several weeks for a child to feel calmer and more secure as things slowly return to normal.
Once the disaster is over it’s important to try and return things to normality as quickly as possible. Continue with regular routines and provide a safe and supportive atmosphere. Ensuring that children are well fed, clothed and sheltered should be the first priority. This allows them to feel safe in their environment and promotes recovery.
Offer opportunities to discuss the events and allow children to ask questions if they have any. Focus on providing gentle reassurance rather than facts, as children do not need to know all of the adult details. Give them age appropriate explanations and explain that these types of events are actually quite rare.
It can be helpful to limit how much children are exposed to news reports and adult discussions of the disaster. This can be re-traumatising particularly in younger children, as by listening they can re-experience the distressing events or over emphasise them.
Of course one of the most important things is for adults to model resilience. Show children that things are under control by staying calm and providing them with a secure base to seek comfort from. They will gain strength from your own strength. Look after yourself and seek your own help and support if you need it.
Staying connected with friends, family and the community is an important aspect of recovering from a disaster. Everyone needs help at times and it is okay to ask for a shoulder to lean on. If you or your child experience extreme or prolonged distress following the recent floods, it may be helpful to seek professional psychological support to assist in the recovery.
Dyslexia is a condition that many professionals and parents often misunderstand. In the community it is often incorrectly believed to be a visual difficulty when in most instances this is not the case. Dyslexia is a condition which affects a child's ability to efficiently process sounds and link them to letters. It's important to identify Dyslexia early in a child's life in order for them to get the help they need.
One to one direct reading instruction by a qualified professional is extremely important if your child is diagnosed as having Dyslexia. Commencing intervention as early as possible in a child's life promotes success and improves outcomes. Children with Dyslexia can become functional readers and can have the same opportunities as others.
If your child has reading difficulties and is falling behind in class talk to their teacher as a first step. Teachers can give you an indication of where exactly your child's literacy levels are compared to other children.
Monitor your child's difficulties and give them individual support. Read to them and with them regularly. Start with the basics and try and make it fun. Give them choices over what they can read and appeal to their interests.
There are many great iPad apps to help with developing fundamental reading skills. Look up 'phonological processing', 'phonics games' and 'children's reading games' in the app store initially to get some ideas.
It's important to remember that all children develop at different rates with regards to academics, social skills and language. Some children do need more time to develop certain skills however sometimes it is more than just a delay. 5-15% of children experience Dyslexia which is a brain based disorder and not merely a delay. If your child has Dyslexia or another learning disorder early assessment and treatment is extremely important.
If you have ongoing concerns, your child is not improving or you feel that there is more to it than just a delay your child may benefit from a comprehensive learning assessment. An assessment by a Child Psychologist will provide a detailed overview of your child's learning strengths and weaknesses and can identify learning disorders such as Dyslexia.
If you have further questions about Dyslexia you may be interested in viewing this article which provides a good overview for parents.
You can also call us on 02 4929 2223 and we would be happy to help you and your child.
Children can become scared, worried and concerned at different points in their life and it is only natural for parents to want to help. As a parent you want to see your child grow into a happy and confident individual. Their self-esteem and wellbeing is so important and shapes who they will become as an adult.
Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling of nervousness and distress which both children and adults feel as a normal part of life. For example, many individuals feel somewhat 'on edge' and experience a sense of discomfort when they are in unfamiliar situations such as large parties or starting a new job. When we experience these feelings in small amounts this can be helpful as it makes us consider our actions to try and make a good impression.
However, some children and adults suffer from extreme anxiety and feel overwhelming stress levels in new situations or times of uncertainty. In these instances seeking assistance from a Mental Health professional, such as a Psychologist, can be helpful to learn strategies to cope and manage anxiety symptoms.
To teach your child to feel confident and resilient you can start by helping them in five simple ways:
1. Educate about the worry - Sometimes a small amount of age appropriate information can help your child feel better. For instance, if your child is scared of thunderstorms you can teach them in basic terms that there is nothing to be afraid of. E.g. Explain to them that the clouds rub together and make noise just like when we scrunch up paper. "We can't be hurt while we are inside the house. It’s just noise".
2. Encourage your child to cope with their fears - Avoiding situations which are not dangerous only prolongs the problem. Avoiding teaches them they are not safe and they need to stay away. Instead, gradually encourage your child to confront the situations they are scared of and they will learn they are safe and can cope. For example, if your child is afraid of dogs first show them pictures of friendly dogs. Then build on that by looking at videos together and visiting pet stores to see the puppies behind the glass. Eventually build up to the real thing, but only ever put the child in a situation in which they are safe.
3. Praise your child for being brave in difficult situations - When your child achieves a bravery goal or attempts something difficult praise and reward them. Be explicit and show emotion so they know how much it means. "Wow! I am so proud of you for talking in front of your class. That is a difficult thing to do but you did it anyway". This gives your child important feedback and encourages them to continue.
4. Talk about your own helpful thoughts to ease worries - Showing your child that you use positive self-talk to cope in day to day life will help them learn to do it also. Verbalise your own coping strategies and they will absorb it like a sponge. e.g. "I was a little bit nervous in my meeting today but I thought to myself 'I can do this and I am good at my job'. I felt much better after that".
5. Show your child how to reassure themselves rather than always relying on you - Sometimes children actively seek reassurance for the same thing over and over. If you notice your child is always worrying and asking you the same questions when they are scared you may need to get them to self-reassure more. For instance, if your child often worries that you will not be back to get them at the end of the day and always asks if you will definitely come to pick them up after school you could say "Remember we spoke about that yesterday. What did I say then?". Get your child to identify what you said the day before and repeat it to them self. e.g. "Mummy always comes to get me. She would never leave me behind". Using visuals and picture stories can also reinforce these ideas. Doing this helps your child to use positive self-talk to cope independently.
If your child is struggling with anxiety please call us on 02 4929 2223 and our Child & Adolescent Psychologist would be happy to help.
Child Psychologist Daniel Wendt is the Principal Psychologist of Oracle Psychology in Newcastle, NSW.