Natural disasters such as the one we are witnessing in Japan are disturbing to all of us as we watch helplessly as people lose their lives and their homes. The added threat of nuclear power plants releasing radiation is frightening and the topic of great discussion among adults. Japan is currently the primary topic on many television and radio broadcasts, with many "experts" talking endlessly about the dire consequences of the power plant explosions.
Our children and teens cannot help but be exposed to some of this information, and many of them may become traumatized by the scenes of devastation and discussions about nuclear power safety. Many teachers are talking about the events in school, which leads to kids talking about it among themselves, often not understanding how far away Japan is. They become very concerned that a similar disaster will occur where they live. They worry about being separated from their families, having their homes destroyed and losing friends and relatives in similar fashion.
It is important to recognize that children may not talk about their fears, allowing the worry and fear to become serious contributors to trauma. The following 10 Tips will help parents and educators talk to their children honestly about such events and watch for signs that their children are traumatized.
For more detailed information on helping children and teens deal with natural disasters, explosions and fires and acts of violence, please download the Healing Magazine Crisis Kit
here. It is in PDF format and free of charge. Also recommend that teens log onto TeenCentral.Net
for expert advise from Master's and PhD level counselors on this issue or anything that may be bothering them. Parents may log onto ParentCentral.Net
for assistance with any parenting issues they may be experiencing.
10 Tips for Talking to Children About Natural Disasters and School Shootings
The effects of trauma in children may linger and manifest themselves physically and behaviorally. Will Isemann, President of CEO of KidsPeace, and the clinical experts at KidsPeace have compiled a list of tips to help parents talk to their children about what has happened to upset them and look out for future signs of distress:
1. Listen to children. Allow them to express their concerns and fears.
2. Regardless of age, the most important issue is to reassure children of safety and security. Tell children that you, their school, their friends and their communities are all focused on their safety and that those around them are working for their safety. Have discussions about those dedicated to protecting them like police, teachers and other school officials, neighbors, their government and all concerned adults throughout the community.
3. When discussing the events with younger children, the amount of information shared should be limited to some basic facts. Use words meaningful to them (not words like massive devastation or sniper, etc.). Share with them that weather or geological shifting have caused a specific disastrous event in a certain part of the world or some bad people have used violence to hurt innocent people in the area. Discuss that we don’t know exactly why this was happened, but a natural disaster or violence has occurred. Do not go into specific details.
4. School-aged children will ask, “Can this happen here, or to me?” Do not lie to children. Share that it is unlikely that anything like this will happen to them or in their community. Then reiterate how the community is focused on working to keep everyone safe in the community.
5. Parents, caregivers and teachers should be cautious of permitting young children to watch news or listen to radio that is discussing or showing mass death or carnage. It is too difficult for most of them to process. Personal discussions are the best way to share information with this group. Also, plan to discuss this many times over the coming weeks.
6. When discussing the events with preteens and teens, more detail is appropriate, and many will already have seen news broadcasts. Do not let them focus too much on graphic details. Rather, elicit their feelings and concerns and focus your discussions on what they share with you. Be careful of how much media they are exposed to. Talk directly with them about the tragedy and answer their questions truthfully.
7. Although this group is more mature, do not forget to reassure them of their safety and your efforts to protect them. Regardless of age, kids must hear this message.
8. Be on the lookout for physical symptoms of anxiety that children may demonstrate. They may be a sign that a child, although not directly discussing the tragedy, is very troubled by the recent events. Talk more directly to children who exhibit these signs:
* Excessive worry
* Stomach aches
* Increased arguing
* Back aches
* Trouble sleeping or eating
* Loss of concentration
* Refusal to go to school
* Clinging behavior
9. Parents and caregivers should often reassure children that they will be protected and kept safe. During tragedies like these, words expressing safety and reassurance with concrete plans should be discussed and agreed upon within the family and can provide the most comfort to children and teens.
10. If you are concerned about your children and their reaction to this or any tragedy, talk directly with their school counselor, family doctor, local mental health professional or have your older children visit KidsPeace’s teen help website, www.TeenCentral.Net
, which provides anonymous and clinically-screened help and resources for teen problems before they become overwhelming.
FOR EDUCATORS: To help school systems see the early warning signs of danger and deal with the psychological fallout of a disaster or shooting, KidsPeace offers several articles from its national Healing Magazine
, including "Building Resiliency in Traumatized Kids: Coping with 21st Century Realities," “Can School Shootings be Prevented?” "Providing Comfort to Adolescents in Times of Crisis" and “Helping Educators Identify Potential School Shooters” In addition, KidsPeace offers highly trained professionals and one of the nation’s leading experts on school shootings, Dr. Peter Langman.