Japan Crisis: Helping Kids Cope
Here are some tips on how you can explain this news to kids and reassure them about what to expect.
Listen. Reports of large-scale tragedies can lead to emotional stress for some kids, and they may struggle to give meaning to what has happened. Do your best to get a clear picture of what they understand and what's leading to their questions.
Be patient. Children's behavior may regress when they experience distress. During these times, it's important to be patient and willing to address their questions and concerns, sometimes repeatedly.
Reassure. Assure kids about all that is being done to protect children who have been directly affected by this crisis. Take this opportunity to let them know that if any emergency or crisis should occur, your primary concern will be their safety and protection.
Be alert. Look out for any significant changes in your kids' behavior and demeanor on the heels of such tragic news. Coping mechanisms such as mood swings or changes in sleeping or eating patterns will likely subside within a short time, however, if prolonged, it's important that you to seek professional support and counseling. For children directly affected by this crisis—particularly those who have lost a loved one—parents should consult their pediatrician or family doctor and consider counseling, not just for the child, but also for the entire family.
Interact. Kids of all ages feel most safe and secure when they regularly receive personal attention. Engage in special activities with your child—anything from reading a bedtime story to your child to empathizing with your tween's or teen's concerns can make a difference.
Limit TV time. The deluge of images following an event of this nature may overwhelm kids, especially younger children. Be sure to let them know that the footage on the news and the internet is being replayed, and the disaster is not happening over and over again.
Have self-awareness. Kids learn how to process unfortunate events by seeing how the adults around them cope. While it's important that you share your feelings, it's critical that you do so in a calm manner. Also, do your best to stay cognizant of your child's age and developmental level.
Show compassion. Use the events depicted on the news as a platform from which to teach the importance of compassion and charity.
Maintain normalcy. No matter what else is happening in the world, routine is important to kids. They need the opportunity to play and interact with other kids. And while discussion is important, ensure that your child's school is not overwhelming students with excessive focus on the crisis.
Volunteer together. Kids gain a sense of control, security, and empathy when they help others, and in the midst of crisis, they really can emerge as active agents of positive change. Encourage them to help support local charities and crisis relief efforts, or better yet, join them in doing so! Visit TheBigHelp.com for ideas about volunteering opportunities.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Every child processes news of tragedy differently. Younger children depend largely on their parents to help them interpret events, while tweens and teens often get information from a variety of sources that may not be as reliable. Understand that older teenagers, because of their greater capacity for understanding, may actually be more affected by these stories. While teenagers seem to have more adult capacities to recover than young children, they still need extra love, understanding and support to process these events.
Save the Children urges adults to seek out and follow the guidance of Emergency Management and Public Health Officials to help ensure the safety of their children. For more information on emergency preparedness, look out for the new 2011-2012 Big Help Activity Guide.
Information provided by Save the Children, and reviewed and approved by Diane Ross Glazer, PhD.