What can parents do to help their child? It is of great importance for the family to remain together. Being together with the family provides immediate reassurance to a child. Fears of being abandoned and unprotected are immediately alleviated. For example, immediately after a disaster parents should not leave the child in a "safe place" while they themselves go elsewhere to inspect possible damage. They should not leave the child alone in the evacuation center while they go back to the damaged area; they should not leave the child to go shopping, but should take him along. With no opportunity to experience the fear of being left alone, the child is less likely to develop clinging behavior. The child needs reassurance by the parents' words as well as their actions! "We are all together and nothing has happened to us." You don't have to worry, we will look after you. Realistically, parents are also experiencing fear. However, they have the maturity to cope with the stresses upon them. A demonstration of strength should be apparent to the child who will feel more secure and reassured; however, it will not harm the child to let him know that you are also afraid. As a matter of fact, it is good to put these feelings into words. This sharing will encourage him to talk about his own feelings or fears. Communication is most helpful in reducing the child's anxiety and, for that matter, the adult's anxiety. The child may then express some fears which are not real and the parents will have an opportunity to explore these fears and reassure the child.
Listen to what the child tells you about his fears
Listen when he tells about how he feels, what he thinks of what has happened.
Explain to the child, as well as you can, about the disaster (the fear-inducing event), about the known facts and, again, listen to him.
A child may express his fears in play or in actions. If these are unrealistic, explain and reassure him. You may have to repeat yourself many times. Don't stop explaining just because you have told him this once before.
Encourage him to talk.
The silent child needs to be encouraged to talk. His difficulty in expressing himself may be very frustrating to the parents. It can be helpful to include other members of the family, neighbors, and their children in a talk about reactions to the disaster. Through the sharing of common experiences, fears are further reduced. It is essential that an attempt should be made to provide an atmosphere of acceptance where a child will feel free to talk about his fears (be it at home or at school). Adults are often reluctant to encourage the child to talk about fears and anxieties. They believe that this will only increase the fears and anxieties. Also, parents may feel helpless in reassuring the child, and may be afraid of actually harming the child by continued discussions. Statements like, "I know you are afraid," or, "It is a scary feeling," are helpful and should be used. Being told it is normal and natural to be afraid is also reassuring.
A child's fears do not need to completely disrupt his and the family's activities.
It is apparent that there will be important concerns and things to do after a disaster: checking on the damage, cleaning up broken glass or fallen furniture. A child can and should be included in these activities. It is actually reassuring for a child if he is involved with the parent in these jobs. It is reassuring to see progress being made in bringing the house back to order and the routine of the household resumed: meals prepared, dishes washed, beds made, playmates coming over. For the parents of a very young child, the task is more difficult. Such a child may need more physical care, more holding; and this makes it harder for parents to attend to the other things that should be done. Unfortunately, there is no short-cut. If the child's needs are not met, the problem will persist for a longer period.