Traumatic incidents and natural disasters, how we can help our children to deal with these life changing events.
In light of the current situations with the nationwide lockdown and COVID – 19 claiming more and more lives with every passing day , it’s a good time to reflect on the impact of these incidents on children, and what we as adults can do to help them get through it.
As a member of the NSW RFS, I was part of a group that undertook training last winter on how to talk to kids about traumatic events. If you are a medical worker, a doctor a nurse a cleaner in a hospital, anyone on the front line of this fight to stop COVID – 19 , firstly thank you – and secondly, if you have children living with you, please remember that they are hearing the pager, text messages, phone calls and so on. It can be very frightening for them to see mum or dad or both (or other important people in their lives) hurriedly pulling on uniforms and rushing out the door. Take the time to explain the general outline of the situation, along with who will be looking after them, what time you expect to be back at home and so on.
When establishing your household/property emergency plan, include your children, give them a job to do that is part of that plan. It could be something as simple as “Your job is to put the lead on Spot and make sure he gets in the car.” Having something to do helps to alleviate panic and lets them know that they are an important member of the household too.
Don’t tell children not to be scared, whether it’s a car or other accident, fire, flood or other major situation. This can make them feel like you think they are being silly and minimise their confidence in their self worth and the validity of their feelings. Instead use words like “I know you’re frightened, we’re going to do our best to make sure you’re okay.”
If you are preparing to leave your home in the event of a natural disaster, have photos and important documents such as insurance papers saved to USB drives – these are quicker and easier to grab and carry safely without taking up room in your vehicle.
If you and your family are being quarantined as a result of a possible COVID case then talk to the children about what is happening and why it is important to isolate the person involved. Assure them gently that they will be alright and that isolation is the best thing to do for the children and the person involved as well as the township as a whole.
Following any traumatic event, take time for yourself and your children to “de-brief” talk it all through, acknowledge feelings, regrets, fears and so forth. Most emergency services organisations, both paid and voluntary, have great peer support teams in place and for other community members mental health supports are often provided locally.
Stay safe everyone, not just physically but mentally and emotionally too, and don’t get so caught up in the urgency of the moment that you forget that kids are feeling it all too. They need supports early if we are to prevent the ongoing trauma after the incident from impacting too heavily on their lives. Remember too that for children and adults, any traumatic event can trigger unwelcome memories of previous events, adding to the impact of the incident. (GE)