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Mama Drama: Talking with Kids about Disasters

Dear Mama Drama:

With all the recent news about the earthquake, tsunami, and possible nuclear meltdowns in Japan I’m concerned about my children. I want to address their fears, but am not sure where to start.

~Devastated Mama

(photo credit)

(Send your Mama Drama questions to [email protected])

Dear Devastated:

Fortunately, we just received the following information from Kidproof Colorado addressing this exact issue.

Whether she’s overheard teachers talking in the lunchroom, seen scary images on a friend’s TV, or caught sight of your morning newspaper, your child has likely heard about Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. Even though she hasn’t experienced the trauma personally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency warns that even news about disasters can spark fear, confusion and insecurity in kids and teens.  Here’s what to look for and how you can help.

Children at different ages show stress in different ways. Babies and toddlers may pick up on family tension and show it by crying, fussing or cuddling more than usual. Scary images of disasters may cause preschoolers, ages 3 to 6, to feel fearful or insecure, and they may cling to you more than usual. School-age children may become intensely curious, asking non-stop questions to reassure themselves.

With vivid imaginations and a sense of compassion, grade-schoolers may show sadness and fear, guilt over not being able to help and confusion over why the disaster happened. Tweens and teens, ages 11 to 18, have a better understanding, but they may become fearful of leaving home, or jaded about the state of the world. Teens may deal with their fears with risk-taking or abusing alcohol or drugs. Your child may also show other signs of stress, including trouble sleeping, a loss or increase in appetite, fighting and aggression, problems with school, more frequent crying, nightmares or reverting to childish behavior, like baby talk or wetting the bed.

HOW CAN PARENTS HELP KIDS UNDERSTAND THE DISASTER?

** The most important thing you can do as a parent is to open up the lines of communication, tailoring your messages based on your child’s age and maturity level.

** If your little one is under 7, it’s best to shut off the television, keep him away from the Internet, and protect him from information he really doesn’t need to know. At the same time, remember that he’s keenly aware of your own fear and sadness. Give frequent hugs, reassure him that your family is safe, and answer his questions honestly and simply.

** For older children and teens, you can be more assertive. Ask them what they’ve heard and what they think about the information. You may choose to watch the news together, and then answer their questions with facts, without speculating or talking about worst-case scenarios. Some kids may be satisfied with the bare basics while others may feel better learning all that they can.

** You should also ask your child how she feels. Common fears are that the event will happen again, that a loved one will be hurt or killed, or that she’ll be left alone to fend for herself. Explain that these emotions are normal and natural, and let her know how you handle your own fear and sadness. Be aware that your child may show emotions by acting out; have her write in a journal or draw a picture instead. Reassure her, keep her busy with activities and chores, stick with your usual family routines, have a family meeting to dust off your disaster-preparedness plans and spend extra time together.

** Your child may also feel better if you find a way to join the relief effort. This might mean doing something nice for a schoolmate whose relatives were struck by the disaster, sending his weekly allowance to the American Red Cross or joining a church or community effort. Let them know that disasters are a fact of life, but so is human kindness.

Kidproof designs innovative courses and educational materials that cover a range of children’s safety needs including BullyProofing, CyberSafety, Babysitting, First Aid and more. By connecting with millions of parents and kids annually, Kidproof and its child safety education franchisees help create safer communities by delivering exclusive child safety programs to schools, community centers, youth organizations, churches and private groups. To learn more visit www.kidproofsafety.com, email [email protected], or contact the Kidproof Colorado office at 720-344-4722.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.