Large-scale Natural Disasters are Scary for Children | Kay Trotter

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Large-scale Natural Disasters are Scary for Children

Guest Author – Caelan K. Kuban, LMSW is the Program Director for The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children and Starr Training Institute. Caelan Kuban can be reached at ckuban@tlcinst.org.

Large-scale natural disasters, like the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, are scary for children. There is no doubt that in the past week children have been exposed to powerful media images of the scene. Surely many of the children you work with have either asked you or their parents questions about what happened. Many children also are fearful about whether or not something like the disaster in Japan could happen where they live.

Encourage parents and teachers to limit a child’s media exposure and to set aside time to answer questions and talk to children about the tragedy in Japan. It can be traumatizing to see graphic images over and over again. While adults often need to know what is going on as a way to calm their own anxieties, in doing so they overexpose children. Adults should wait to turn on CNN until their children are in bed. Most important is to reassure a child, focusing on their safety.

Younger children need to hear that the buildings in our country are safe and that mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, etc. love him and are here to keep him safe. Parents should spend extra time snuggling on the couch, reading books, or playing a game with children who are feeling scared. Sensory comforts such as these will be more helpful than anything we might say. However, be open to questions but don’t provide too much information that could become scary or overwhelming.

Older children may be curious about how and why natural disasters happen and if they ask, it is appropriate to explain things in more detail. If children express worries about the children in Japan, explain that there are many adults from around the world that are helping them.

While we can’t explain why random events happen and certainly can’t predict or control them, we can use them as an opportunity for teachable lessons like empathy, generosity and humanity.

TLC is pleased to provide the Japanese translation and colorful illustrations of our Brave Bart storybook to Tokyo Center for Play Therapy in Japan for distribution to professionals working with children in the aftermath of the disaster.

The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children on the WEB
www.starrtraining.org/tlc

Caelan Kuban can be reached at: ckuban@tlcinst.org.