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Help Kids Deal With Stress

Trying to return to “normal” after a flood, tornado or other disaster can be difficult for children because the effects can last for weeks or months.

“Parents and other adults need to be attentive to children’s needs to help them overcome fears and re-establish as sense of security,” says Sean Brotherson, North Dakota State University Extension Service family science specialist. “Parents can provide an example for children, give them guidance and support in managing their emotions, and create an atmosphere that will help children cope.”

A disaster can cause children to experience changes in family routines or the loss of toys or family items. Being concerned about and feeling grief about those losses is not unusual. Some common reactions are shock, physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach problems, anger, guilt or worry that they somehow contributed to the situation, fear, sadness, a decrease in activity and a tendency to withdraw.

Other ways children exhibit stress include becoming upset easily; crying frequently or unexpectedly; whining; yelling; threatening others; hitting, kicking or throwing things; having trouble sleeping, such as being afraid to sleep alone, having nightmares and having trouble napping or going to bed; refusing to go to school or child care and wanting to stay close to a parent; exhibiting regressive behaviors such as thumb sucking or wetting the bed; and being more active than normal or restless.

Here are some strategies parents and other adults can use to help children deal with stress:

  • Hold the children and provide physical comfort, such as extra hugs, smiles, holding their hand or sitting next to them and putting your arm around them.
  • Give your children verbal reassurance that you love them, they’ll be taken care of and everything will work out.
  • Be honest about your feelings. Children will feel better if they know parents may share some of their feelings.
  • Avoid expressing anger. Show self-control and a positive response to stress.
  • Respond to children who are angry or upset in a firm, calm manner.
  • Ask your children to share their thoughts and feelings and listen to what they have to say.
  • Suggest more appropriate ways to respond to those feelings if they exhibit anger or aggression.
  • Give children who are acting aggressively time to calm down before discussing their feelings.
  • Help your children think of ways to lessen their anger, such as listening to music or playing a sport.
  • Buy, check out or borrow books that show children or families dealing with and overcoming challenges and read them with your children.
  • Use humor to lighten the situation.
  • Have children write, tell a story or draw a picture about the family’s experience.
  • Provide props or other materials children can use to play the roles of firefighters, doctors, nurses, construction workers, safety personnel or others in a play related to the family’s experience.
  • Establish and maintain consistent routines that provide children with security and familiarity.
  • Let children express their frustration if they have lost toys or other valued items, and acknowledge the reality of their feelings. Plan to replace a lost object if appropriate.
  • Develop a plan with children for action to take in case of future problems or stress. Children feel better if they know beforehand what might be done to respond to a flood or other disaster.
  • Practice emergency procedures so children are familiar with them.
  • Involve children in cleanup or repair work as appropriate. Children will benefit from feeling they are making a contribution.

 For more information, visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood or www.extension.org/Floods.

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