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Natural Disasters: Help Your Child Cope With The Anxiety

How on earth can you help your family cope with the anxiety and fear that natural disasters strike into the heart of everyone?

In early 2005, for example, the world was rocked by the tsunami in South East Asia that killed thousands and left many homeless and orphaned.

Yet, at the Edinburgh International Festival yesterday I saw a group of Sri Lankan children, all victims of this natural disaster, perform a dance routine based on a play by Shakespeare.

Their smiling faces and youthful exuberance left no one in any doubt that these kids had not only survived, but had been helped to grieve, move on, and live life to the full again.

It can be done.

But what of our own kids, who have not suffered the actual experience of a disaster? They may nevertheless fall prey to an insidious and potentially devastating trauma.

This is unacknowledged fear or anxiety, and many parents may be unaware that it's happening to their own kids under their very noses.

I say unacknowledged anxiety because often children themselves don't recognise it for what it is. And that's when real trouble starts!

Often our kids witness disasters on TV. If they're shocked or horrified, and are reluctant to talk about their response, the fear can become repressed. It then manifests in 'side effects' such as physical ailments, school problems, relationship difficulties, or loss of confidence.

So what can parents do to help?

First of all we must realise that kids take in more than we think they do.

For example, when the AIDS crisis was preoccupying every radio and TV station in the western world it never dawned on my wife and I that our young kids would even think about it. We thought they were too wrapped up in Star Wars or The Care Bears or whatever the current fads were.

We noticed that one of our sons was becoming untypically fretful and anxious, and wasn't sleeping well.

During a particularly bad episode one night, it all came out. He didn't know what the AIDS crisis was, but it terrified him! He was shaking uncontrollably, and thought we were all going to die horrible deaths very soon.

We overcame this problem, and I've since learned that our son's reaction was similar to that of many kids' when they don't fully understand something - and we parents go about our business in blissful ignorance!

So first of all, be aware that natural disasters, and even human atrocities like terrorist events, can make a deep impact on even very young children.

Bring the kids into the discussion. Avoid playing down the reality of these events, and allow the kids to express their feelings openly and frankly.

Having dealt with the horrors - and trust me, the kids will feel better after talking about them! - concentrate on other aspects of the subject.

First of all, make a frank assessment of the likelihood of it happening to them.

If there's been an earthquake somewhere, and you live in an area that's not likely to be affected by one, let them know. If you do live in an earthquake zone, stress the procedures to be followed in the event.

But also look for the GOOD springing from disasters or accidents: people rally round; poor countries have their debts written off; measures are taken (such as building sea walls and early detectors) to ensure the disaster doesn't happen again . . . And discuss ways the kids themselves can help, like fund raising.

Most importantly, provide emotional support when fear strikes. The awareness that there's a strong, warm, comforting adult presence - a pillar of strength in their lives - can work wonders.

To sum up: Be aware of the kids' reactions, talk out their fears, look for ways to take helpful action, and provide the emotional support your kids need.

Do this, and you can rest assured your kids will cope with the news of disasters and atrocities, which in modern life are all too inevitable.

Happy parenting!

Why do some parents and children succeed, while others fail? Frank McGinty is an internationally published author and teacher. If you want to develop your parenting skills and encourage your kids to be all they can be, visit his web pages, http://www.frank-mcginty.com/peace-formula.ht ml and http://www.frank-mcginty.com/for-parents.html

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