Helping Your Toddler Cope with Natural Disaster
It seems like mass devastation caused by natural disasters have been in the news more frequently. Remember Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti, an earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the tornados in Alabama, to name a few. Having an emergency preparedness kit and tools to aid in our physical survival, in the event that we need it, provides comfort and peace of mind. Think about that kit often, and even update it often. But how often do we think to put together a kit for mental and emotional health? The toll disaster has on our emotional well being is difficult to us as adults, so can you imagine what effect it has on our children?
The thought of going through something as devastating and destructive as a natural disaster has made me question whether or not I really know what to do to help my little ones understand and cope with an event like that. Should I rely on parental instincts and trust that they’ll kick in automatically, or should I seek advice from a source wiser than myself? I decided to rely on both instinct and knowledge. I sought knowledge through Dr. Brandon West, of West Family Medicine. He gave me five important tips for helping a young child understand and cope with a natural disaster.
Tip 1 – Reassure Safety. Perhaps the number one, most important thing you can do for toddlers is to make them feel secure. Knowing they’re going to be kept safe plays a key role in their ability to cope, so give assurance that you are there to help and provide safety. Making your little ones feel safe will play hand-in-hand with these next four tips as well.
Tip 2 – Be Calm. It is very important for parents to stay calm. Children pick up on their parents’ behavior. Sad and devastating situations are, no doubt, going to cause fear and anxiety, but keeping it under control will reassure your children that they are safe, and will also allow them to feel calm too.
Tip 3 – Give Explanation. Never try to protect your children by leaving them in the dark; they sense and understand more than we ever give them credit for. Build trust and understanding by telling them what happened, and explain the process of how it happened.
Tip 4 – Illustrate Solutions. Let children know there is a way out of the difficult situation. For example, if the family home has been damaged, explain what needs to be done before it can be lived in again. Tell them if it needs to be cleaned up, or if it needs to be rebuilt. Whenever possible, give your children opportunities to be involved, whether it’s contributing ideas or actual clean up, involvement will help bring tangibility to solutions.
Tip 5 – Council If Needed. If a child seems unable to manage the circumstances after all you’ve done as a parent, or if a loved one has been severely injured or killed, you may want to seek professional counseling services to further facilitate coping and understanding.
Hopefully these five guidelines have helped you feel better prepared to assist your little one’s understanding and coping of natural disasters, and will become a valuable part of your emergency preparedness kit.