This year has been extremely difficult for families when it comes to natural disasters and pandemics. Isolation from friends, new school routines, limited outings to places that once seemed so natural. For many we find ourselves questioning when it will end, much like a child being curious on a family outing, “Are we there yet?”
Children are vulnerable to extreme stress and anxiety after experiencing emergencies such as wildfires. They do not have a well-developed coping mechanism to severe stress, and may demonstrate behavior more typical of younger children. They may become prone to nightmares and may not perform well with school work due to distractions caused by trauma. Some may become more irritable in dealing with adults and their friends, while others may experience loneliness and become withdrawn. The following steps can be adopted by parents and caregivers to minimize stress in children after experiencing wildfires.
- Give enough time and attention to children and let them know that the parents and caregivers are there for them. This is especially important during the first few months following the event. Some children may regress into earlier behaviors, such as bed-wetting or wanting a bottle, while older children may not want to be alone. Children younger than eight may also blame themselves for the event, and it is essential to get rid of the feeling of guilt.
- Being affectionate with children can be exceptionally comforting to those experiencing trauma. It is essential to allow younger children to express their feelings through non-verbal activities such as drawing or painting, as they are excellent ways to relieve stress and engage in social activities with other children and adults.
- Encourage older children to express their feelings and thoughts with their peers as well as parents/caregivers. As children express their feelings and thoughts about their experiences in the wildfires, it reduces their anxiety levels and the confusion that they may experience. Adults interacting with children should engage with them using appropriate language while addressing their concerns and questions. Parents and caregivers should assure children that they are available at all times to manage their emotional problems.
- Maintain regular schedules for meals, play, and bedtime to help restore a sense of order to the daily schedule.
- Reduce news viewing. Just as with adults, excess information on the disaster can trigger traumatizing memories in children and therefore should be kept to a minimum.
- Dealing with separation anxiety: Damage to one’s home and community can threaten the sense of safety and normalcy in children, and may trigger separation anxiety in younger children, manifesting in behavior such as excessive clinging, crying, screaming, and fear of the dark. Parents and caregivers should maximize good communication skills, strong self-efficacy, and positive coping skills among children to reduce fear and anxiety.
- Resuming classroom routines of reading, projects, and participation in social and school activities as well as community rebuilding activities can help reduce children’s stress after experiencing natural disasters such as wildfires.
- Some children may have difficulty falling asleep, and it may help to provide them with a stuffed animal, soft blanket, or flashlight to take to bed. Try spending more time with them before they go to sleep, perhaps reading to them before bed.
- Help combat their feeling of helplessness by writing thank-you letters to people who have helped, like first responders, as activities like these can help restore a sense of hope and control over the situation.
For more information or to request help, please contact the clinic at (707) 206-7268 (ext 1). Find more details about Siyan Clinical Corporation at www.SiyanClinical.com