Everyone handles trauma and loss differently, some better than others, but for children, disasters are experienced on a number of different levels as they seek to understand the changing landscape of their lives, often without any real-life frame of reference to help them along. As parents and guardians, you may one day be called upon to set aside your own feelings of loss and fear in order to better support and encourage your child’s recovery. In reality, nothing can truly prepare you for this responsibility until the time comes, and it’s likely that no one knows better than you how to react and respond to your child’s emotions when a crisis strikes. But our time in disaster recovery has afforded us with a few valuable techniques that we would humbly submit to you here in the hopes that they might one day help a family to recover and grow stronger together from the loss of a home or loved one.
In the event of a catastrophic disruption to the everyday routine of family life, such as a flood or a fire, it’s hard enough for the adults to cope with all the emotional stress and financial obligations that must be addressed without also having to consider the delicate emotional state of the child suffering through the same ordeal, without half as much wisdom or past experience to temper their fears and emotions. As a result, it’s all too easy to dismiss their questions and concerns as being trivial or not worth the time demanded by the more pressing matters at hand, but this can be harmful to the child’s psyche and coping ability if they are constantly denied the chance to express their feelings and to work out the problem externally. At this time more than ever, we should try to set time aside to listen carefully to what our kids are saying and asking us, asking questions of our own and encouraging communication to get a clear understanding of how they are interpreting the situation and how that understanding can be enhanced or adjusted.
After listening carefully comes reassurance. With everything that has just been taken or lost from their daily lives, they need to know that the one thing they never lost is the love and comfort of their family unit. That feeling of security is so important in times of disaster that it can make all the difference in how the child interprets the event. The child needs to be reassured that the family will be kept safe and that these events are not likely to recur in the future, that they are not a fact of life (as certain media might suggest), but rather a rare occurrence that can be overcome by the love and support of the families involved. Talk to them about your future plans for keeping the family safe, and they will begin to feel that sense of security as if it had never been lost at all.
At the same time, there is a fine line between sheltering a child and overdosing them on fear and anxiety. Disaster coverage in the media will always be sensationalized, and too much exposure to this kind of coverage can subvert your own efforts to reassure them that everything is ok now. In the days following a hurricane or wide-scale flooding, the typical marathon news coverage can foster the belief in the child that the disaster is still on-going or that they may still be in danger, even when this is not the case. Balance your reassurance with real-life wisdom, and if you let them watch the news with you, make sure you’re available to explain exactly what’s going on and why, and to answer any questions before they can draw their own imaginative conclusions.
Above all else, it’s important that we set the best possible examples for our children to follow at all times, and why should that be any different during a disaster? We must always be aware that our own reactions and responses to the trials of our lives are being observed by our children as the model behaviors for each situation, since they have no other precedents to base them on. If we convey confidence, strength and a positive, hopeful outlook during difficult times, we will teach our kids to do the same, and maybe, just maybe, knowing this is how we can find that strength and hope in the first place.
As your restoration providers, we understand the importance of your family’s continued connection of love and support during your time of loss. It is up to you to maintain that connection, but we seek to do all we can to encourage that bond through our care packages for kids and the courtesy bags we offer each family before offering our services.