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Mental Health Minute: Disasters
The news lately has been filled with tragedies and disasters- children being hurt or dying in Palm Beach County, Japan’s earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disasters, civil war and conflict in the Middle East. Children are often exposed to these situations by listening to adult conversation, watching TV, in school, or being on the computer. It is often very difficult to stop children from finding out about these situations. Here are some helpful hints on how to talk with your child about these types of situations. Every child is different, so parents need to think about what level of explanation their child needs.
- If your children are having nightmares, difficulty sleeping, or acting differently, then spend extra quality time with them and ask gentle questions about how they are feeling.
- For children 6 and younger, if they bring it up then talk with them about how they are safe and that it is your job to keep them safe.
- For children 7 and up, if they bring it up then talk briefly about what happened by asking what they heard and what they think.
- Ask questions. If a child asks if an earthquake will hurt Florida, you can say, “Do you think an earthquake would hurt Florida?” This will allow you to see if they already have an answer. Children are often just looking for reassurance that they are safe.
- Correct misconceptions. If a child sees video of a tsunami or large wave hitting Japan, they may think that this is happening here too. By asking questions, parents can correct misunderstandings.
- Keep your answers simple. Most kids don’t really want to know how earthquakes happen, they just want to know that their parent will keep them safe. Tell them that you or their teacher will protect them in case of emergency.
- Validate their feelings. Whatever the child says they feel is how they feel, let them have that emotion without telling them that it is wrong. If a child says they are afraid of the water because of the tsunami, saying “I can understand feeling afraid of water, what can I do to help you?” is better than saying “That’s silly, there’s no big waves in your bathtub, so get in!”
As all Floridians know, tragedy can strike here through hurricanes, fires, car accidents and violence. There is no way to shield your children from these experiences when they happen to family or friends. It is important to be brief but honest with your children. If you are overwhelmed by events happening in your life, it is important to reach out to community agencies and organizations to get the help you need.
Parent-Child Center is proud to be serving all of Palm Beach County’s mental health needs for over 31 years. For more information about trauma or mental health services, please contact Parent-Child Center, 561-899-1628. If you have a suggestion for future Mental Health Minutes, please contact Marla Berger at email@example.com.