It is natural and common for children and adults to experience distress after the recent serious earthquakes and tsunami in Japan. Children are very sensitive. They struggle to make sense of these events. They may have emotional reactions. They may also find it hard to recover from frightening experiences. They will look to adults’ reactions as a signal to how serious the situation is. Adult helpers can provide this support. This may help children resolve emotional problems.
After a disaster, both the mind and the body respond. Mental distress includes frightening thoughts and painful feelings and may also include changes in behavior. Both adults and children may find it hard to concentrate, may experience an overwhelming sense of helplessness, may be intensely fearful and anxious, or may retreat. Sleep may be disrupted, and individuals may find themselves constantly on guard. They may have bellyaches and vague physical sensations such as feeling giddy or tired.
It is important to emphasize that all of these reactions are completely normal and most all children and adults will recover within a few weeks.
In general adult helpers should:
• Accept but do not argue about how an individual feels
• Help others cope with the reality of their situation
• Remind children that adults love them, support them, and will be them when possible.
After a disaster parents and family should:
Identify their own feelings, so that they can help others. It is natural to be worried.
Explain to children what happened in words they can understand.
Let children know:
- You love them
- The event was not their fault
- You will take care of them, but only if you can.
- It’s OK for them to feel upset.
• Allow children to cry
• Allow sadness
• Let children talk about feelings
• Let them write and draw about feelings
o Expect children to be brave and tough
o Make children discuss the events
o Get angry when children show strong emotions
o Get upset if they exhibit younger than normal behaviors
If children have trouble sleeping
o Give them extra attention
o Let them sleep nearby for a while
Try and keep normal routines
• Bedtime stories
• Eating meals together
• Reading books or playing games together
• If you can’t keep your old routines, make new ones together.
Help children feel in control
- Let them make some decisions for themselves if possible
For all people in the first days and weeks
Adults can help their children and others by creating an environment of safety. Be calm and hopeful. Connect to others. Listen to their stories, but only if they want to share.
Encourage respect for adult decision making.
• Don’t force people to tell their stories.
• Don’t make promises that you can not keep.
• Avoid watching the same scary TV footage again and again. It can make you anxious.
We can all help one another.
If in a few weeks, you or your child continue to have strong emotions and fears or are unable or unwilling to return to their usual routines, seek help from a counselor or professional. You can call TELL for help. http://www.telljp.com
Adapted from: What Parents Can Do, from the US National Institute of Mental Health
Read the full version here
Simple stress reducing techniques for adults and children
1. Deep breathing
Put one hand on your heart center (center of your chest) and the other on your gut/stomach.
Feel your chest expand with a deep breath and your stomach contract with a big exhalation.
Give your attention to your breath, the slight pressure and warmth of the hands on your body.
This will help your body calm
2. Children and Adults: breathe in color
Imagine a balloon in your favorite color.
Take a slow deep breath and imagine the colored air (or light) entering your body.
Think to yourself, “This colored air or light is full of calm, peace, and wellness.”
When you breathe out slowly, imagine that you are blowing out grey - and imagine that in the grey you are blowing out is stress, worries, and discomfort.
Repeat 3-5 times very slowly and you will feel a sense of well-being.
Place your hands comfortably on your thighs, tap slowly and alternately on your thighs. This will also help calm your body.
Another way to do this is to cross your arms across the front of your body, so your hands rest on your upper arms, tap alternately this way, like hugging yourself.
What to expect after a disaster (TELL)