Fear is a normal reaction to any danger which threatens life or well-being. What is a child afraid of after a disaster? He is afraid of recurrence, or injury, or death. He is afraid of being separated from his family. He is afraid of being left alone. Parents should recognize, however, that there are fears that stem from within the child, his imagination or his fantasies, as well as those fears that are stimulated by a real event. Even after the event has passed, his anxiety will sometimes remain. The child may not be able to describe his anxious feelings. Even though he is intensely afraid, he may be genuinely unable to give an explanation that makes rational sense. The child, who is dependent on adults for love, care, security --even food, fears most the loss of his parents and being left alone. In a disaster, even the child who is usually competent and unafraid may react with fear and considerable anxiety to an event which threatens the family. Since adults also react emotionally with normal and natural fear to disaster, the child becomes terrified, taking parental fears as a proof that the danger is real. A child having less experience in distinguishing a real threat is likely to be plagued by fears with no basis in reality. It is important to note that fantasied danger can be as real and threatening as "real danger."
A child experiences similar fear in other situations; for example, when parents separate, or divorce, when a child goes to the hospital or when there is a death in the family. Parents all recognize these more familiar fears and attempt to deal with them.
In natural disasters like fires, floods, tornadoes, or earthquakes, our first concern is with and our first attention goes to physical safety. This is as it should be.
However, parents tend to ignore the emotional needs of the child once they are relieved that nothing "serious" has happened to members of the family.
When there has been no physical injury, they may be surprised about the persistence of the child's fears. They may even feel resentment, particularly if the child's behavior disrupts or interferes with the daily routine of the family.
One must recognize that a child who is afraid is afraid!
He is not trying to make life more difficult for himself or his parents. His fear is uncomfortable to him. He would like nothing better than to be rid of his fears. If the child feels that parents are not understanding of his fear, he feels ashamed, rejected, unloved and consequently, even more afraid.
A first step for parents is to understand the kinds of fear and anxiety a child experiences.
Parental understanding and helpful intervention can reduce the severity of fears and can prevent more serious problems from developing. This is not a new role; parents routinely and effectively help children cope with fears encountered in day-to-day situations. However, when an unusual situation occurs, the ability of some parents to reassure their child, particularly when they themselves have been frightened, may be impaired. The child feels even more fearful or anxious when suddenly he is unable to turn to the adults for reassurance.