Disasters bring about high levels of stress and anxiety, whether the event directly affected one or not. SAMHSA with the United States Department of Health and Human Services has created literature about “Managing Anxiety in Times of Crisis.” Topics on their site include how to help children, teens, older adults, and self-care. In this post, we’ll take a look at some tips on how to help children and older youth.
- Assure them they are safe. Listen and talk to them about their concerns, questions, and how they have been affected. Pay attention to their drawings and how they play. This may be a good indication of how they are feeling and how they are internalizing a disaster situation.
- Talk on their level: Depending on their age and brain development, children perceive the world in different ways. When one communicates with a child, use terms they will understand that are not too technical.
- Stay positive: Children are very perceptive. If one focuses on the positive, a child may feel safer and have less anxiety. Develop an emergency plan with your child to help them feel safer and know there will be some sort of control when a situation feels out of control.
Helping Older Youth:
- Help the young person understand that it is okay for them to (re)play an event in their mind after a tragedy and it is okay to feel scared or anxious.
- Help them understand there is no one way a person should feel during or after a disaster. One may feel sad, depressed, angry, etc. and that is okay. Even though they may have strong emotions, these will pass and they will feel more normal as time passes.
- Encourage the young person to talk to an adult or peers about his or her feeling and/or experiences.
- Take media breaks: Limit the amount of time the young person is watching coverage about the event so that it does not consume their life.
- Resume the daily routine: This can help one feel some more normalcy and control in one’s life.
- Deal with anger in a health manner: There are right and wrong ways to deal with anger after a tragic situation. Some teens, when they feel angry or out of control, may turn to drugs, alcohol, violence, or hateful actions or language. These behaviors are not helpful to the situation. Encourage the young person to practice anger and stress-relief techniques that are positive. These can include exercising, relaxing in a bath, listening to music, deep breathing, talking, journaling, etc.
When adults experience a disaster, it is important that they not only take care of their needs, but also those of the children and youth in their lives. Helping young people in a healthy, positive manner during hard times can help provide coping tools that will last a lifetime. If a youth or child exhibits signs of prolonged depression or anxiety, it may helpful to seek professional counseling.
Learn more about disaster recovery.