How Families Can Help Children Cope with Fear and Anxiety:
Tragic events such as Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 may touch your family personally or are brought into your home via newspapers and television. Parents and grandparents can help children cope with the anxiety that violence, death, and disasters can cause. Listening and talking to children about their concerns can reassure them that they will be safe.
Start by encouraging them to discuss how they have been affected by what happened in the Gulf states. Even young children may have some specific questions. Children react to stress at their own developmental level.
Encourage children to ask questions. Listen to what they say. Provide comfort and assurance that address their specific fears. It’s okay to admit you can’t answer all of their questions.
Talk on their level. Communicate with your children in a way they can understand. Don’t get too technical or complicated.
Find out what frightens them. Encourage your children to talk about fears they may have. They may worry that a hurricane could destroy their house or a friend or relative’s home.
Focus on the positive. Limit their television exposure to the events which can be replayed over and over and may not reflect an accurate view of the recovery. Remind your child of the heroic actions taken by ordinary people to help victims of tragedy. Encourage them to make a donation to The American Red Cross or some other organization to help the victims of Katrina.
Pay attention. Your children’s play and drawings may give you a glimpse into their questions or concerns. Ask them to tell you what is going on in the game or the picture. It’s an opportunity to clarify any misconceptions, answer questions, and give reassurance.
Develop a plan. Establish a family emergency plan for the future, such as a meeting place where everyone should gather if something unexpected happens in your family or neighborhood. It can help you and your children feel safer.
If you are concerned about your child’s reaction to stress or trauma, call your physician or a mental health counselor.
Source: United States Department of Health & Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), updated June 2002