It is normal for children to
be afraid, especially after a natural disaster. The fear may last
for an extended period of time and is best handled with kindness
and understanding on the part of the parents. Children should be
encouraged to talk about their feelings and express their fears
through play, drawing, painting, or clay/playdough.
Research indicates that children's fears vary
according to age, maturation, and previous learning experiences.
Four major fears common in children are: death, darkness, animals,
Another important aspect of children's fears
is that they may be intensified when adults refuse or are reluctant
to discuss them with children. Many families ban all painful topics
from family conversation. Such strategies inflict high costs in
terms of intensified despair and negativity among children. To help
children cope with fears, one of the most important steps adults
can take is to take the time to talk with children.
Following a Disaster Some Children May:
- be upset at the loss of a favorite toy, blanket,
teddy bear, etc.
- be angry. They may hit, throw, kick to show
- become more active and restless.
- be afraid of the disaster recurring. They
may ask many times, "Will it come again?"
- be afraid to be left alone or afraid to sleep
alone. Children may want to sleep with a parent or another person.
They may have nightmares.
- behave as they did when younger. They may
start sucking their thumb, wetting the bed, asking for a bottle,
wanting to be held.
- have symptoms of illness such as nausea,
vomiting, headaches, not wanting to eat, running a fever.
- be quiet and withdrawn, not wanting to talk
about the experience. become upset easily -crying and whining
- feel guilty that they caused the disaster
because of some previous behavior.
- feel neglected by parents who are busy trying
to clean up and rebuild their lives and homes.
- refuse to go to school or to child care arrangements.
The child may not want to be out of the parent's sight.
- become afraid of loud noises, rain, storms.
- not show any outward sign of being upset.
Some children may never show distress because they do not feel
upset. Other children may not give evidence of being upset until
several weeks or months later.
What Parents Can Do To Help Children Cope with
- Talk with your child, providing simple, accurate
information to questions.
- Talk with your child about your own feelings.
- Listen to what your child says and how your
child says it. Is there fear, anxiety, insecurity? Repeating the
child's words may be very helpful, such as "You are afraid
that...", or "You wonder if the storm will come again
tonight." This helps both you and the child clarify feelings.
- Reassure your child, "We are together.
We care about you. We will take care of you."
- You may need to repeat information and reassurances
many times. Do not stop responding just because you told the child
once or even 10 times.
- Hold your child. Provide comfort. Touching
is important for children during this period. Close contact helps
assure children that you are there and will not abandon them.
- Spend extra time putting your child to bed.
Talk and offer assurance. Leave a night light on if that makes
the child feel more secure.
- Observe your child at play. Listen to what
is said and how the child plays. Frequently children express feelings
of fear or anger while playing with dolls, trucks, or friends
after a major disaster.
- Provide play experiences to relieve tension.
Work with playdough, paint, play in water, etc. If children show
a need to hit or kick, give them something safe like a pillow,
ball, or balloon. Allow a safe, open space for them to play if
- If your child lost a meaningful toy or blanket,
allow the child to mourn and grieve (by crying, perhaps). It is
all part of helping the young child cope with feelings about the
disaster. In time, it may be helpful to replace the lost object.
- If you need help for your child, contact
family members, such as grandparents or a clergy member.