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Eleven Tips for Responding to Children’s Fears and Concerns Following a Disaster

by Melanie Gordon

Parents, teachers and caregivers are the key to helping children work through their feelings following a disaster.

Pray with children for the victims of the disaster. Simple prayers, like: Dear God, help and bless the people who lived through the storm. Guard them all with your care. Amen.

Discuss openly with children what your family and church are doing to help those who have been hurt by the disaster.

Limit trauma by protecting children from ongoing media images of the disaster that may only contribute to fear and helplessness. Limit exposure to continuing news stories and hold adult conversations only when children are not present.

Reassure children as you listen to their fears. Children experience the same feelings as adults, so it is important and reasonable to validate their feelings while keeping a positive future orientation.

Contact organizations in your area that address the needs of children.

Provide structure through routine and activity. Routines and activities help regain a sense of control when all else feels out of control.

Make objects that encourage play reenactment of the images children observe during and after a disaster.

Let children draw pictures or journal about the disaster. Ask children to draw or write whatever comes to their minds, or give them a question or topic to draw about. Create a group mural or collage that illustrates the images children have seen. Follow up with a discussion with a parent or small group.

Group discussions are helpful for validating children's feelings about the images they see or the conversations they hear about the disaster. Most importantly, end the discussion on a positive note by assuring children of God’s love. Scripture, like "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" from Psalm 46 is one example of scripture that can bring children comfort.

Develop a family disaster plan for the types of natural disasters that may happen in your area. Role-play some possible situations. Knowing that you are prepared will help children cope with fears that they may find themselves separated from family in the event of a disaster.

Do good. Doing good for others help children overcome the sense of powerlessness. For example, let children help purchase and assemble health kits, layettes or flood buckets. See UMCOR.org for information on how to assemble kits.

Categories: Crisis and Trauma, Times of Crisis, Natural Disasters