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Disaster Relief: The Best Ways to Help Children Cope When Worldwide Tragedy Strikes

posted 24 Feb 2013, 07:53 by Mpelembe   [ updated 24 Feb 2013, 07:53 ]

Whenever a worldwide tragedy occurs, such as an earthquake,
tsunami, tornado, or terrorist attack, children look to
their parents to make sense of it all. They may be
wondering to themselves, will this happen to us? Is our
family safe? Is our school safe? And the even more elusive,
why did this happen?

It's normal for children, just like parents and educators,
to feel confused and scared. As a Child Development Expert,
adults come to me to find out what they can do and if
they're doing enough to help young people during this
trying time. While many parents may shield their children
from the news, information can easily seep out through
friends and the media. It's important for parents and
educators to be available and ready.

Here are some things to remember:

(1) Stay calm: Children are looking to you to see how to
react. By staying calm and in control, children will feel
more safe and secure.

(2) Be available: Your children may need you to simply "be
there" to listen or sit with them. Sometimes the most
powerful parenting takes place when we say nothing at all.

(3) Reassure them: Make sure that the children know that
the adults are taking care of the problem and working hard
to take care of the people who are hurt or lost.

(4) Let them know that they're safe: If you know that your
children and your family members are indeed safe, be sure
to let your children know. If this is not accurate
information and safety is still in question, don't lie.
Reassure your children that the adults in charge are doing
everything they can do to keep everyone as safe as possible.

(5) Comfort them: Allow them to cry, question, and show
concern. Don't shrug them off and tell them to "stop
worrying." This does not help. Tell them it's OK to be
scared or sad and that you're available to them if they
want to talk or just be together.

(6) Be observant: All children won't express their concern,
grief, or fear outwardly. You know your child. Sometimes
your child will become very quiet or lose their appetite
when something tragic happens. Some children will be more
likely to have a reaction—perhaps due to past trauma,
special needs, or emotional sensitivity. Be there for your
child and know that even if your child is not showing
outward signs of grief, s/he may still need your help.

(7) Keep your normal routine: As much as possible, keep
your children's schedule "as usual." Children are comforted
by predictability. However, if your child needs some time
with you or isn't sleeping, be flexible.

(8) Be honest: Tell your children the truth about the
event, as is appropriate for their developmental level.
Children don't need to know all the gory details—this
will only serve to make them more scared and confused.
However, don't pretend or lie. Stick to the facts and don't
exaggerate or speculate. Children are very perceptive and
need to know that they can trust you to tell them the truth.

(9) Partner with your children's school: Find out what
resources are available to the children during the school
day if they're feeling scared or unsure. If a personal
tragedy happened, make sure the guidance counselor and your
child's teacher knows about it. School can provide your
children with comfort by being with friends but also with
counseling, as needed.

(10) Limit the media onslaught: The best people to talk to
your children about these tragic events are trusted family
and educators. Do not allow the media to educate your
children about these disasters. The media often talks about
high death tolls and shows gruesome pictures that are not
developmentally appropriate for children to see. If you
want your children to know the facts, as appropriate, talk
to them yourself.

Lastly, your children (and you) may feel better by taking
action. Children want to show their compassion and charity.
In times of tragedy, they may not be able to help directly
but they can send letters, draw pictures, write poems, send
food or supplies or donate some of their allowance to help
relief efforts. This kind of action can be incredibly
helpful to children as well as those who are in need.

About the Author:

Child and teen expert, Dr. Robyn Silverman provides
easy-to-follow tips for teachers and parents.  She writes a
popular parenting blog and advice column and her tips have
been highlighted in Parents and Prevention Magazine, the
Washington Post, and the nation radio show with Dr. Drew
Pinsky.  For more information or to contact Dr. Robyn,
visit her Powerful Parenting Blog at  or website at