Friday, January 14, 2005

Child Psychology in the Tsunami's aftermath

With the recent Tsunamis hitting the Indian shores, more may be at stake than just the people in its path. Viewing the frightening pictures and emotional coverage of this disaster on tv may be leaving scars on your young child's mind. Here's how to talk to your young child about disasters and calamities.
What You Need to Know: How children react to disaster depends on their age. When exposed to a calamity or emergency children experience a variety of emotions and need your special attention. Two typical DISTRESS reactions in children are "a-typical behaviour" or doing things they have never done; e.g. a normally friendly child becomes shy;
And "regressive behaviour" that is behaving much younger than their age; e.g. a toilet trained child starts bed wetting again.
These reactions may occur immediately after exposure to a disaster or after a few weeks. Most of the times these symptoms pass away when the child re-adjusts. If you are directly affected by the disaster, cope with it in a way that the children do not develop a permanent sense of loss.
1-5 Years: Bed-wetting, fear of darkness, clinging to parents, night terrors, stammering, loss of appetite, fear of being left alone, confusion.
What You Can Do: Talk reassuringly, hold and hug the child, give frequent attention, encourage him/her to express his feelings through play or words, allow to sleep in your room till they have overcome their anxiety.

5-11 Years: thumb-sucking, irritability, whining, fighting at home or school, fighting with younger sibling for parental attention, school avoidance, nightmares, withdrawal from friends, poor concentration at school, regressional behaviour, headaches or other physical complaints, fear about safety.
What You Can Do: Be patient, arraneg their play sessions with friends or adults, encourage discussions with friends and adults, temporarily reduce your expectations at school or home, give more structure to time at home including non-demanding chores, rehearse safety measures for future disasters (discuss in detail how you will cope if a similar disaster affected you in the future).

11-14 Years: Lack of sleep, poor appetite, rebellion at home, refusal to do chores, school problems like fighting, withdrawal, attention-seeking behaviour or loss of concentration; physical symptoms like headache, vague pains, upset stomach, and loss of interest in peers.
What You Can Do: Involve them with same age group activities, help to resume lost routine, encourage group discussions, give stuctured responsibilties which are non-demanding, temporarily relax expectations and give extra individual attention.

When is Professional Help Needed ?
If symptoms continue, most likely a deeper emotional problem has occured and it is advisable to seek the help of a mental health professional who has experience with children and trauma. In the absence of such a professional, your pediatrician may be consulted.

Remember, children are adept at realising the concerns of their parents and this is especially true at the time of a crisis. As parents, you should admit your concerns to your children, and also stress your abilities to cope with the situation.
Compiled with the help of New York State Office of Mental Health.

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