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.
Child Psychologist Daniel Wendt is the Principal Clinical Psychologist of Oracle Psychology in Newcastle, NSW.