NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Strategies for Helping Youth Copy with Disaster

Strategies for Helping Youth Cope with Disaster

            Severe weather seems to be in the news quite frequently of late.  The damage a storm can do to buildings, fields of crops and shelter belts that are in the line of a severe storm is very evident.  We know how to clean up the broken remnants and rebuild for a fresh start. But what of the human damage?   The aftershocks felt by children?  After any disaster or trauma, children are most afraid that the event will recur, that they or someone they love will be hurt or killed, that they may be separated from those they love and be left alone. It’s important that caregivers use strategies to help youth cope with the aftermath:

Provide reassure
            Children need to be reassured that they are safe now and they are loved. The importance of touch cannot be understated. A hug or pat on the back is important to reassuring a child.

Being upset is O.K.
            Adults should let the children know that it is O.K. to be upset. They need to understand that it is normal to feel sad or unsure when something bad happens. 

 Express feelings
            Children should be encouraged to express their feelings about what has happened. Adults can help children put their feelings in perspective. When unable to express feelings, youth can use means such as drawing, writing and other forms of communication to tell about what they are thinking and feeling.

Provide facts
            It is important to be honest with children about what has occurred and provide facts about what has happened. Rumors often surface during and after a devastating situation. It’s important to talk about information only after it has been confirmed by reliable sources. Many child development specialists recommend that children under the age of 6 not be exposed to the TV videotape coverage of disasters or traumatic situations, and the viewing time for older children should be limited. Adults should look for signs of repetitive play in which children re-enact all or part of the disaster.

Observe reactions
            Adults can provide opportunities and create an atmosphere in which children feel comfortable expressing concerns and ideas and asking for help if they need it.

Spend time with children
            It’s important that positive role models spend time with the affected youth. Focus on having fun and taking time to enter the child's world. Positive role models can help build back a child’s world by helping the youth gain confidence.

            Praise children for doing well and trying hard to make the best of a bad situation. When complimenting a child, let others hear the compliment. The opinion of peers and other family members is very important to children..

Be aware of regressive behavior
             Regressive behavior such as thumb-sucking, nail biting, night waking and bed wetting may occur in response to the trauma. Some children may need additional help from time to time. For those times, consider seeking outside assistance from community resources such as churches, counseling centers, or recovery programs.

Create opportunities for positive action
            Instead of focusing on their situation, youth can create opportunities to serve others in their situation. After all, they know what is needed. The service can be simple, such as writing letters or sending condolences to the families or organizing a productive activity at school or a shelter.

            These strategies will help a child deal positively with the disaster and improve the child's self esteem, behavioral habits and coping abilities while going through crisis.



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