Help Family Cope with Natural Disasters

Article ID: 549668

Released: 2-Mar-2009 8:00 PM EST

Source Newsroom: Oklahoma State University, Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

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Newswise — Natural disasters can be scary for anyone involved, especially for children who may have unanswered questions.

A violent disaster can shake our sense of well-being and safety, said Debbie Richardson, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension parenting assistant specialist. This can happen when we see or listen to coverage on television, the radio or in print.

"Children may respond differently to disasters, depending on their maturity and understanding of the event," she said. "An occurrence such as a tornado could leave a child feeling a fair amount of anxiety."

Richardson explains that, during an emergency situation, it is important for family members to talk about what they heard and felt.

"Children must be comforted and reassured they are safe," she said. "Parents also should be open and honest with their children in discussing unseen consequences of the disaster."

Children often personalize information and believe a crisis will affect their immediate family, even if is taking place miles away. Richardson said it is very helpful to listen to what children think and feel about the disaster and tell them it is OK to talk about the events that happened.

"By listening, parents can find out their fears and misunderstandings and give the support the children need," she said. "Parents and other caregivers need to provide their children with a sense of security."

During a tragedy, it is important for families to stay together and maintain a regular routine as much as possible. Try to include children in recovery activities as long as the environment is safe. Helping others deal with the tragedy can be reassuring and help with coping. Children can write letters, draw pictures or get involved with an organization.

"Parents need to get the message across that life continues and that children are contributing their efforts for the good of the entire family," Richardson said. "It's important for the family to mourn losses and begin a healing process. Oftentimes performance at home, school or work may be affected."

Children whose family or friends may be working in a disaster area could be concerned about their well-being. Media images of the chaotic and painful situation could make them wonder if their family or friends are safe.

When it is possible, Richardson suggests allowing family members and children time to be in touch with the person in the affected area. If they are out of contact, encourage children to write letters or journal to the family or friends. Also, try to limit media exposure because it can serve as a constant reminder of the tragedy.

"During a natural disaster, trauma or life-changing event, additional help may be needed in order to cope," Richardson said. "Talking to a counselor, clergy or another trusted adviser may be beneficial to the healing process. Make sure to tell your children that you and others love them and care about them. A crisis situation can help people connect with family, friends and neighbors."

Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating: The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.