Dealing with stress after a disaster or trauma

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Helping your child cope

Spiritual aspects

Be extra patient. Determine what's really important, keeping in mind that others' viewpoints on what should be considered top priority may be different from yours. Don't expect things to instantly restore themselves. Accept that physical and emotional restoration takes time.

Disaster victims are suffering losses. It is natural to express disbelief, anger, sadness, anxiety, and depression afterwards. Emotions will roller-coast and moods may change unexpectedly.

Don't overlook the feelings of children. They will count on you for the extra attention, love, and supported necessary to get through. Reassure them, making sure they understand they are not responsible for the problems you face.

Try to keep your family diet as nourishing as possible under the circumstances. Refocus on the big picture, instead of little details and little problems; this will give you a sense of competency. Talk with friends, family, counselors, teachers, or priests, ministers, rabbis, imans. In crisis situations, a supportive network is essential.

From Virginia Cooperative Extension

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It is normal for children to be afraid, especially after a disaster or trauma. This fear may last for an extended period of time, and is best handled with kindness and understanding. Children should be encouraged to talk about their feelings and express their fears through play, drawing, painting, or clay/play dough. The four major fears common in such situations are: death, darkness, animals, and abandonment.

Children's fears may be intensified if adults refuse or are reluctant to discuss them with children. If you ban painful topics from family conversation, you get high costs in terms of intensified despair and negativity among children. To help children cope with fears, one of the most important things adults can do is to take time to talk with children.

Following a disaster, some children may be upset about the loss of a favorite toy, blanket, etc. They may get angry -- hitting, throwing, kicking, becoming more active and restless. They may be afraid of the disaster happening again or of being left alone. They may have nightmares, behave as they did when younger (sucking their thumb, bed-wetting, asking for a bottle, wanting to be held), have symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, headaches, not wanting to eat, running a fever.

They may be quiet and withdrawn, not wanting to talk about the experience, becoming easily upset, crying and whining a lot. They may feel guilty that they caused the disaster, feel neglected by parents who are busy trying to rebuild their lives, refuse to go to school or child care. The child may not want to be out of the parent's sight. They may become afraid of loud noises, rain, storms. They may also not show any outward sign of being upset. Sometimes these signs of stress may show up weeks or months later.

What parents can do to help children cope with feelings: Talk with your child, give simple and accurate answers to questions; tell you kids about your own feelings. Listen to what children say and how they say it. Is there fear, anxiety, insecurity? Repeating the child's words may be helpful -- "You are afraid that. . . ", or "You wonder if the storm will come again." This helps to clarify feelings. Reassure your child -- a lot. Repeat information and assurance many times; don't comment about the child asking you the same question even as many as ten times. Hold your child, provide comfort. Touching is very important for children during these times. 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 anger or fear while playing with dolls, trucks, or friends after a disaster or trauma. Provide play time to relieve tension. Work with play dough, paint, play in water, etc. If children show a need to hit or kick, give them something safe like a pillow, ball, or balloon. If your child lost a favorite toy or blanket, allow the child to grieve. It is all part of helping the young child cope with feelings about the disaster. Don't hesitate to seek help from your family, church, community group, or mental health agency.

From Virginia Cooperative Extension,

Hard times test our faith and our beliefs. We wonder, "How could this happen to me?" There are no easy answers to this, except to remember and affirm that God is love, and God is not the author of fear, trauma, or evil. The smartest human being does not have all the answers, and there are questions for which we must wait for answers. When hard times come upon us, God is a sure refuge and hope. In a time of trouble, we can bring all our fears and terrors to God, and commit them to His care and keeping. Jesus Christ walked this road before us, even unto a terrible death on the Cross, so don't think God doesn't know what you're going through, because He does. The article, "Is there too much stress in your life" discusses how having a healthy spiritual life helps reduce stress and help you cope with trauma.

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