Caregivers can take steps now to prevent stress and anxiety in children
Baton Rouge, LA--“Events like Hurricane Isaac, can take a toll on children.” said Janice Allen, a licensed clinical social worker with Catholic Charities. “Parents and caregivers can do a lot to alleviate their fears and prevent long-term consequences.”
Since Hurricane Katrina, Catholic Charities has helped thousands of families to recover from disaster, first as an early responder to the immediate needs and later helping people rebuild their lives. The agency specializes in case management which includes mental health counseling, employment services, housing, education and more.
A 2010 report issued by the National Commission on Children and Disasters stated “Children are particularly vulnerable to the mental health impact of disasters and lack the experience and skills, and resources to independently meet their mental and behavioral health needs.”
“With every disaster, we learn something new,” said David Aguillard, Catholic Charities executive director. “People in South Louisiana look to Catholic Charities for answers, and we know parents want to do everything they can to limit the negative effects of disaster on their children.”
As part of Catholic Charities Disaster Response activities, Allen and her team of counselors worked with hundreds of people traumatized by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike and developed the tips below for parents to help children and families cope with any tragedy.
- First, don't force your child to talk about things until he or she is ready. Look for signs like sleeplessness and separation anxiety. When the time is right, create a time and place for children to ask questions.
- Remember that children tend to personalize situations. For example, they may worry about friends or relatives who live in a city or state associated with disaster or incidents.
- Help your child find ways to express him or herself. Some children may not be able to talk about their thoughts, feelings or fears. Some are more comfortable drawing pictures, playing with toys, or writing stories or poems directly or indirectly related to current events.
- Answer your child’s questions and use words and concepts your child can understand. Parents should answer in language appropriate to the child's age and level of understanding. Take care not to overload children with too much information, but give them honest answers and information.
- Be prepared to repeat explanations or have several conversations. Some information may be hard to accept or understand. Asking the same question over and over may be a child's way of asking for reassurance.
- Remember your child learns from watching you and their caregivers. Children are very interested in how parents, teachers and relatives respond to events. They learn from listening to adult conversations.
- Let your child know how you are feeling. It's OK for children to know their parents are anxious or worried about events. However, don't burden them with concerns. Speaking in a soothing, calm, reassuring voice is as important as what you say.
©Catholic Charities Diocese of Baton Rouge