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I was reading Hippomanic Jen’s blog today about the impact fires have on children and about the importance of talking to them about what’s been going on. I received two emails today about this very thing and so wanted to share the contents here. This is a longer post but really worth reading if you are a parent or work regularly with children. I actually think it’s helpful for all of us not just those with kids.
Michael Grose, a renowned Australian childhood educator who writes a regular parenting email and provides many parenting resources says the following:
#1 Reassure children that they are safe. The consistency of the images can be frightening for young children who don’t understand the notion of distance and have difficulty distinguishing between reality and fiction. Let them know that while this event is indeed happening it will not affect them directly.
#2 Be available and ‘askable‘. Let kids know that it is okay to talk about the unpleasant events. Listen to what they think and feel. By listening, you can find out if they have misunderstandings, and you can learn more about the support that they need. You do not need to explain more than they are ready to hear, but be willing to answer their questions.
#3 Help children process what they see and hear, particularly through television. Children are good observers but can be poor interpreters of events that are out of their level of understanding. Sit with them. Ask them questions to ascertain their understanding.
#4 Support children’s concerns for others. They may have genuine concerns for the suffering that will occur
and they may need an outlet for those concerns. It is heart-warming to see this empathy in children for the concerns of others.
#5 Let them explore feelings beyond fear. Many children may feel sad or even angry with these events so let them express the full range of emotions. They may feel sadder for the loss of wildlife, than for loss of human life, which is impersonal for them.
#6 Help children and young people find a legitimate course of action if they wish. Action is a great antidote to stress and anxiety so finding simple ways to help, including donating some pocket money can assist kids to cope and teaches them to contribute.
#7 Avoid keeping the television on all the time. The visual nature of the media means that images are repeated over and over, which can be both distressing to some and desensitizing to others.
#8 Be aware of your own actions. Children will take their cues from you and if they see you focusing on it in an unhealthy way then they will focus on it too. Let them know that it is happening but it should not dominate their lives.
#9 Take action yourself. Children who know their parents, teachers, or other significant caregivers are working to make a difference feel hope. They feel safer and more positive about the future. So do something. It will make you feel more hopeful, too. And hope is one of the most valuable gifts we can give children and ourselves.
Children’s worlds can be affected in ways that we can’t even conceive of so adults need to be both sensitive to children’s needs and mindful of what they say and how they act in front of children.
In difficult times, it is worth remembering what adults and children need most are each other.
You can read more at Michael’s blog
David Goodwin from KidsReach had these suggestions including some helpful ones for families of faith.
1. Children need to be able to talk and ask questions about what happened.If children have a question and do not feel they can talk about it, the problems become really scary for them. This is true even if there are no real solutions to the problem. Children still need to be able to ask questions and talk about what worries them. Not being able to ask a question or talk about an issue makes problems far worse for children. Bringing things out into the open is the very best thing you can do.
So even if you say to your child, “I don’t know” that is 100 times better than the child feeling they cannot talk about it or ask the question.
2. Reassure your children they are safe.Children need you to reassure them that they (and you) are safe.” You do this by taking time to talk about what happened and listening to their thoughts and feelings.
Children have more insight than we sometimes realise. Children may have questions, fears right away, often with children, however, questions and fears will arise several days later. For example, in the recent fires, what they think about may include:
Inside the rubble that was a building are still many people alive but cannot get out.
The interviews that have shown people who have lost homes or loved ones or even those not knowing if their loved ones are safe.
The issues of faith and God and not knowing why this happened
Will there be a another fire and where will it be?
The animals that have died in the fire.
Listen to them carefully. More than anything, they need to know you are listening to them and they need your reassurance them that they are okay.
3. Keep doing regular things.Children find security in doing regular and planned events. To cancel an outing or pull children out of school when a crisis like this hits, can hurt a child’s sense of security – especially for younger children. The exception of course is if the child is in danger.
4. Look for symptoms of anxiety
Often children appear to perform very well at the time of a crisis, but can in due course experience some symptoms. These include:
* Difficulty sleeping,
* Waking throughout the night,
* Nightmares or daydreaming.
You can see these symptoms by:
* Change in appetite,
g images of traumatic events or dwelling on the event.
* A child may become easily angered or upset or may withdraw or become reluctant to be open or talk.
* Headaches, stomach aches, nightmares, indigestion are common by products of this type of stress.
Any of these symptoms may indicate emotional stress.
5. Control the television Tune in for updates and stay informed, but do not let the television reports of this tragedy dominate the atmosphere of your home. It will also help at this time to allow your children to watch their favourite programs or movies.
6. Pray with your children Talking with your children and listening to them is essential but there is one important thing that we can do as Christians, even when we feel hopeless and the answers seem far away. Praying will provide an answer both for the victims and for your children. Children will feel empowered when they know they can pray.