WHEN DISASTER STRIKES - HELPING CHILDREN COPE WITH LOSS
from The ChildCare Solution
A Service of The Partnership Group, Inc.
Hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, explosions, military build-up or war sometimes dominate the headlines. Disaster strikes families in many ways; the death of a parent or child; the loss of a place to live; the world in chaos around them. Often adults become so involved in dealing with their own feelings, they forget or misjudge the needs of children.
WHAT CHILDREN NEED TO RESOLVE LOSSES:
- A secure relationship with parents or guardians.
- Prompt and accurate information about a tragedy
answers to as many questions as s/he wants to ask, as honestly as possible.
- An opportunity to participate in family grieving, including funerals
the comfort of a parent or guardian s/he trusts.
- Some children need outside help to overcome the loss of a loved one, don't hesitate to provide this outlet.
- be allowed to express hurt and sorrow,
- not feel that they need to fill the gaps in an adult's life,
- be reassured about living and financial arrangements, (even if a parent is unsure about the future, children need to know that adults are responsible for solutions),
- must not be involved in placing blame for a tragedy, (as adults often do),
- must not be expected to react in a certain "acceptable" way,(anger and despair need to be expressed as well as sadness),
- know who will care for them! It may seem obvious but they must be told.
UNIVERSAL REACTIONS TO LOSS:
Any loss triggers the same sequence of feelings; the severity and duration of the experience varies with the importance of the loss.
The symptoms and recovery are illustrated in this simple example from How to Survive the Loss of a Love, (Colgrove et al.,p.16, Bantam Books, N.Y. 1977):
"We run to a ringing phone and just as we pick it up, the caller hangs up.
- Our first thought, 'Oh, no. I couldn't have missed it.' (shock and denial)
- Our next thought, 'Why didn't they hold on a little longer?' (anger)
- Then 'Gee, I really wanted to talk with somebody.'(depression)
- Finally, 'Oh, well, if it was important they'll call back.' (understanding, acceptance)
We return to what we were doing. The whole process might take a few seconds, but the three stages of recovery have been experienced, the body has healed, and we are ready to continue with life."
THE STAGES OF GRIEF AND RECOVERY
The following will help you to recognize some symptoms of children's stages of grief. Not all children will manifest these symptoms and these are only examples of possible symptoms.
- Shock and Denial Stage
- When first told a child's reactions may be casual, followed by crying later (this could take hours or weeks).
- A second explanation may be necessary at the crying stage, be sure to use words the child understands.
- If possible, warn a child of an impending loss, the child will then have time to mentally practice the separation experience before s/he needs to cope with the loss.
- Feelings of danger which result from the loss of someone who kept him/her safe, cause physical reactions ranging from exhaustion to colds and infections.
- Insomnia may result from feelings of impending danger.
- A secure environment.
- A consistent, loving caretaker.
- Reliability of information.
- Consistent daily routines or schedules.
- Advance notice given to a child of any change in routine (don't leave a message that you'll be late with a daycare teacher, talk to the child).
- Reassurance that s/he is loved and that you are not angry with him/her.
- Leaving something of your own with a child when you go to work after a loss.
- Grief and Anger Stage
- When a child is grieving s/he may require more sleep than usual, may appear to have no energy and want to be alone
- Regression to prior behaviors may be evidenced, such as bed-wetting or thumb-sucking, these are common reactions
- Preoccupation with a lost person, a compulsion to speak about him/her may indicate a child is hoping for a magical ending
- Waiting for something to happen and visiting places a loved one used to frequent
- Inability to sit still, always searching for something to do
- Intense feelings of anger and hostility may be verbalized against a caregiver (strong anger may last for 6 to 12 wks)
- A child may have trouble following directions or may forget to do some routine daily task
- Pessimism, inability to get up in the morning, lack of motivation
- Overeating or loss of appetite
- Allow a child to have as much quiet time as needed.
- Regressive behaviors such as thumb-sucking or bed-wetting should not be punished, they may provide a return to a safer time for a child and will eventually stop.
- Permit, encourage and support a child's feelings of grie.f
- Try not to scold a child for forgetfullness or lack of concentration.
- When a child wants to verbally share sadness, anger or guilt, don't ask the child to postpone, deny or cover-up feelings
- Set specific times each day to talk with a child about feelings of grief.
- Help a child make lists or develop games to overcome forgetfulness.
- Acceptance and reorganization stage
- Child appears to be calmer, angry outbursts decrease.
- improved self-control and attention.
- Becomes attached to others once again.
- Focuses on the present and future, rather than the past,building a new life.
PATIENCE, LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING FROM PARENTS AND CARE-GIVERS ARE THE KEYS TO HELPING CHILDREN COPE.